Oh, the thinks you can think! Ahren and Flaherty’s Seussical, abridged and directed by Peter Charney as part of Hofstra’s Spring 2016 Student Showcase, may not be the most original production of Seussical to date, but it sure is creative.
As an amalgamation of several stories by Dr. Seuss (the pseudonym of Theodore Geisel), Seussical tells the story of Horton the elephant, who sets out to save the Whos who live on the minuscule planet Who, while being pursued by his love interest Gertrude McFuzz. The musical tackles the alienation felt by Gertrude, a one-feathered bird, and Jojo, the gifted and over-actively imaginative son of Whoville’s mayor.
Charney’s production is abridged to one hour, and uses a minimalist set of large children’s blocks—uncharacteristically juvenile as they may seem—to create a variety of scenes. While this scaling down makes Ahren and Flaherty’s overly complicated musical more digestible, Charney’s version often cuts the connective tissue of the musical, leaving the audience only a vague suggestion of narrative and character development.
In order to draw out the real-life issues raised by Seuss’s work and the musical itself, Charney stages the action as a fantasy within a metropolitan subway station. He condenses the show’s large cast to a small number of actors dressed in work and street clothes, and costumes his cast as various social types from nerd to construction worker. While the original production of Seussical was panned for its unsympathetic plot, Gina Arfi’s humanized Gertrude highlights the dysmorphia she feels in relation to her one-feathered tail.
While the production features a small ensemble cast, Gina Arfi (’16) as Gertrude, Andrew Salzano (’17) as Horton, and Sabrina Sutton (’16) as Jojo carry the show with their charm and vocal talent. Of particular note is Arfi, who, while not a vocal powerhouse, brings to the role of Gertrude a vivacious, zany energy and sense of resolve.
Peter Charney’s Seussical removes much of the connective tissue and social commentary of the original—including a subplot about wanton militarism that is not irrelevant in this political climate—but provides an hour full of laughter and smiles for all.