Friday, March 17, 2017

North Park Performs "Seussical"

It’s high school musical season, so here come the reviews. Yes, this one is actually a middle school musical, but since it’s my time and my website, it makes the grade. Plus, my daughter, Patience was in the production. It’s blatant nepotism. Thursday night was opening night for North Park’s “Seussical.” It behooves us to keep in mind that these students lost valuable rehearsal time in the ten days leading up to the performance, between the wind storm and the snow storm.

Kids are resilient, and they didn’t let a setback with rehearsals spoil their opener. They were prepared as soon as the lights dropped and the curtain went up. I would imagine that the adults involved were probably more nervous than the actors and actresses. At least it appeared like there was no anxiety on the stage from our vantage point in the second row.

“Seussical” is a musical that combines several of Dr. Seuss’ books, particularly “Horton Hears a Who,” “Horton Hatches an Egg,” and “Miss Gertrude McFuzz.” Written by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, it debuted on Broadway in 2000. The “Seussical Junior” version cuts several scenes, including all but one line of the Grinch’s dialogue.

Once the lights went down, Ethan Koplas, as Jo Jo walked through the crowd to the stage. Jo Jo is a dreamer, the son of the Mayor of Whoville. Once he gets to the stage, he meets the Cat in the Hat, played by Nicholas Kleinhans. Between the two of them, they have that look in their eyes of pure mischief. That makes them perfect for the roles.

Over the last year, since I last saw him perform, Ethan Koplas has truly grown as a singer. His voice has gotten a lot stronger. The same goes for his stage presence. He commands the audience’s attention whenever he’s gracing the stage. He was definitely one of the top singers in the musical.

The same goes for Nicholas Kleinhans. His presence on stage is worthy of note. Playing the Cat in the Hat was a perfect role for Kleinhans. The gleam in his eye matched the characterization of the Cat perfectly. That’s the thing about teenage boys, they are full of the mischief that the character lives on.

I know that Jo Jo and the Cat in the Hat are supposed to be the top bills of the show, but in my estimation, it is Horton who truly carries that title. Paul LaGreca was made for that role. His facial expressions throughout the production were worth the price of admission. He made you feel what Horton was feeling simply by watching his face. From consternation, to sadness, boredom, and elation, LaGreca showed them all.

Jillian Rohde played the Sour Kangaroo. She was able to change her voice during her singing to portray the joey that she carried around with her. While the high pitched part of her vocals were a little bit shaky, when she was singing as the main kangaroo character, she was great. She strutted around on stage as if she was truly that pompous character. She was fun to watch.

Gertrude McFuzz wanted a glorious plume in order to show off for Horton and to get his attention. She spent the entire show trying to make Horton see her. In the end, it was her compassion that drew the two together. As Gertrude, Caitlin Kelley displayed that emotion through her singing. It was soulful and wistful, and one of the best voices on stage.

The crazy Mayzie La Bird, who gave up her egg to Horton to tour the world free as...well...a bird, was played by Tessa Bonanno. Her character was flippant and almost scatterbrained while ensnaring the audience with her vanity. She ambled about the stage, seemingly without a care in the world.

It amazes me sometimes how these children, who are struggling in the throes of trying to define who they are, can wear the character they’re playing so easily. The mannerisms of the characters come through in their acting almost like it channels naturally from their still vibrant imaginations. All this is the product of good direction by their faculty.

First time director, Meghan Curr, had a big job. Given the fact that she was short several rehearsals and that their practice show with the Anna Merritt kids was pushed because of the unexpected school closures, she was able to give the kids the direction they needed to pull off the show. She tapped into their innate talents and the show was fantastic.

Curr was assisted by Robin Pettapiece with art direction, Eileen Brusino with the program, ticket sales, publicity, and whatever else was thrown at her; Tim McQueen and Karen D’Angelo with vocal direction, and Andre Ellis with set construction and tickets. I know there were many, many people who worked long and hard to bring this show together. Spending all that extra time with our children earns them a well deserved round of applause.

Being mostly new to North Park, we were quite unfamiliar with the layout of the building and the way to get to the auditorium. We came in the wrong doors, much to the chagrin of the custodial staff. For future performances, I would suggest that the team who puts on the show sends details home with each actor and actress so the proper procedure is followed as to where to park and where to enter. At the very least, signs should point visitors to the correct entrance and parking area.

The show continues tonight and Saturday at 7pm in the North Park Auditorium on Passaic Street. Please use the entrance between North Park and Anna Merritt.

Craig Bacon is on his way Friday evening to another musical. This time it will be “Thoroughly Modern Millie” at Roy-Hart High School. Stay tuned for another review tomorrow!