“Oh, the thinks you can think!” Young actors shine on the HART stage in Seussical Jr.

October 26, 2023
By Amber McIlwain

A children’s community theater production of Seussical Jr. opened at the Hillsboro Artists’ Regional Theatre (HART) last weekend. The sung-through musical by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty is a hodge-podge reimagining of several Dr. Seuss stories. Audiences will recognize characters and bits of rhyme from such classics as Gertrude McFuzz (one of the other stories in Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories), Horton Hatches the Egg, and Horton Hears a Who! From the pre-show announcements to the curtain call, everything about this show is fantastically Seussical.

The show begins when JoJo (Hope Chinn), a small Who with a big imagination, spots an iconic red-and-white striped hat belonging to the Cat in the Hat (Darian Nelson), that most Seussian of Seuss characters. Transporting the audience to the Jungle of Nool, the Cat tells the story of Horton the Elephant (Samantha McDonald), who promises to protect a speck of dust containing the minuscule town of Whoville and care for an abandoned egg. Mayhem erupts as Horton faces multiple adversaries and naysayers, including the rumbustious Wickershams (Cole Krasnoff, Audrey Latino, Dannika Parsons, Lily Thomas), a brazen Sour Kangaroo (Makayla Verant), and her precocious Young Kanga (Aadvika Shetty). Only Gertrude McFuzz (Caroline Sanderson-Doughty), with her plain one-feather tail, believes in Horton.

Themes include the importance of loyalty and friendship. The show also teaches about the importance of having self-confidence and fighting for one’s beliefs. Even when faced with the possibility of jail, Horton maintains, “I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. An elephant is faithful one-hundred percent.” Horton emerges triumphant, eventually convincing everyone that “a person’s a person no matter how small.”

The creative team of Director Donald Cleland, Choreographer Amy Nelson, and Vocal Director Kathleen Lacock has extensive experience working with young people as well as each other, and it shows. The production, with its large ensemble of young actors ranging in age from six to eighteen, and many moving parts, is seamless. First-time Stage Manager Opal Rickard also deserves mention for how smoothly things run. There are no evident hiccups in the multiple set, prop, and costume changes, which occur at a rapid pace.

The young cast is seriously talented. Their performances are professional and entertaining. Darian Nelson’s Cat in the Hat is the right amount of chaos, Hope Chinn’s Jojo is joyful, and Samantha McDonald’s Horton is the emotional heart of the show. Logan Pounders and Mira Herman are worthy representatives of Whoville as Mr. and Mrs. Mayor. The birds are standouts, especially the confident performances of Caroline Sanderson-Doughty as Gertrude McFuzz and Eva Grace as Mayzie La Bird. The sassy chorus of bird girls (Rowan Jones, Jordyn Pounders, Bel Stenger, Jocelyn Talor, and Hannah Timm) provide plenty of glamor and comic relief whenever they pick up the narrative from the Cat. The ensemble (Blair Cleland, Brynn Cleland, Echo Christensen, William Christensen, Maddie Jones, Leyla Koral, Cora Rollins) effortlessly transitions into citizens of Whoville, jungle animals, circus performers, fish, and other Seuss characters. The highly choreographed opening number, “Oh, the thinks you can think” is a highlight of the show and does a great job of introducing this colorful cast of characters. 

The production crew must be equally praised for bringing the wondrous world of Dr. Seuss to life onstage. The lighting and sound work well with the wildly imaginative set design and special set pieces. The choreography, in particular, is spectacular, creatively using the small theater space to great effect and giving the ensemble and individual cast members plenty of opportunities to shine. And shine they do! The costumes are equally creative. Whimsical details like umbrella jellyfish and waist-pack kangaroo pouches are delightful.

Seussical Jr. is fun for the entire family and a testament to the wealth of young talent in the Hillsboro region. The show runs through Sunday, November 5th. Purchase tickets online at www.hart-theatre.org or call 503-693-7915.
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