SU Drama's season opener 'Seussical' sets bar high

Review: Between the talented cast, creative costumes and colorful lighting design, SU Drama presented a highly entertaining production of this fun musical.

Seussical the Musical opened at the Arthur Storch Theater Friday to kick off the Syracuse University Department of Drama's 2013-2014 season. Seussical tells the whimsical story of Horton the elephant (played by junior Ben Odom) and his adventures with the quaint people of Whoville, setting it to music by Stephen Flaherty and SU alumna Lynn Ahrens.

Photo: Brenna Merritt | Courtesy of SU Drama
Gertrude (Sydney Patrick) and the Cat in the Hat (Robert Axelrod) perform in the SU Drama production of 'Seussical.'

The narrator of the story is none other than the Cat in the Hat (played by senior Robert Axelrod), who not only tells the story, but also participates in the action along with a whole host of characters from the world of Dr. Seuss.

Audiences of a typical production of Seussical are visually assaulted by a barrage of obnoxious colors and tacky costumes. But SU Drama’s production is most definitely not of this variety. Instead of ridiculous elephant and bird costumes, the costumes are mere suggestions of the characters.

The production features a nondescript, colorless set of movable scaffolds. But simple, brightly-colored costumes and excellent lighting design offset this lack of color. The result is a unique and eye-pleasing production of the popular show.

Energy exuded from the cast from the minute the first scene began to the final bow. The ensemble shined throughout the night as its members took on the challenge of many different roles, all while dancing and singing exuberantly. While the show’s main focus is not its choreography, the dancing that was featured was inventive and entertaining.

Robert Axelrod stole the show as the Cat in the Hat. He was charming and downright hysterical as he took on various roles. With each entrance, the audience didn’t know what to expect from him, but each new voice or costume was downright delightful.

Senior Emily Zinski played the main antagonist of the show, the Sour Kangaroo. Her powerhouse vocals dominate the stage. A perfect foil to Zinski’s performance, junior Ben Odom is heartwarming as the genial Horton.

At the helm of this outstanding production was director David Lowenstein, an SU alumnus. Lowenstein was involved with Seussical in 1999, in its early workshop days, until the show made its way to Broadway. Lowenstein’s deep affection for the show was evident in every scene. It was clear he helped the actors craft their characters and make them relatable to the audience. By adding references to contemporary culture, Lowenstein kept Seussical updated and fresh, delighting children and adults alike.

It is easy to write off Seussical as just another children’s musical, but SU Drama's production proved that to be far from the truth. Horton’s favorite mantra, “A person’s a person no matter how small,” highlights the values of acceptance, friendship and community present throughout the show. Seussical challenges us to stay true to ourselves and keep thinking. This production is a must-see.

Seussical will be at the Arthur Storch Theater through Oct. 20.

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