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Review: Seussical (Arts Theatre)

December can be a stressful time. There’s Christmas shopping to be done, diets go out the window and the prospect of spending money on relatives we only see once a year can become all a bit too much. Step forward Seussical, a shining beacon of musical light amongst the dark wintry nights.

The musical, by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, is based on the books of Dr. Seuss and made its début on Broadway in 2000. The story is an amalgamation of many of Seuss’s most famous books including, Green Eggs and Ham, The Cat in the Hat and Horton Hears a Who! 

We begin by being introduced to The Cat in The Hat (Joe Morrow), who is telling young explorer Jojo (Clark Devlin) how he can think almost anything- the more imagination he uses, the more exciting life can become. Suddenly a whole plethora of colourful characters enter Jojo’s world, including the showgirl diva Mayzie La Bird (Jessica Parker), the shy and awkward Gertrude McFuzz (Kirsty Marie Ayers), and our adorable hero Horton The Elephant (David Hunter).

Horton hears a strange noise coming from a speck of dust, and makes it his mission to save the people of Whoville trapped on top. Although the other animals, lead by the Sour Kangaroo (Natalie Green), mock Horton, he’s spurred on by his special bond with Jojo, who has now transferred into the story – and onto the speck – as the son of the Mayor of Whoville (Philip Scutt). Sprinkle in some additional tales, including babysitting an over-zealous egg, feather jealousy and a delightfully charming love story, and you’ve got the recipe for the perfect afternoon of escapism.

From the start the entire cast has sackfuls of energy. Joe Morrow looks like he’s having the time of his life clowning around as the Cat in The Hat. His constant switching between accents and characters had the audience enthralled, and often in stitches, and it’s easy to see how this fun feline will become the new best friend of every child in the audience. Kirsty Marie Ayers is simply delightful as the bird with a one feathered tail. Her sweet, but gorgeous singing voice lends itself perfectly to all of her captivating numbers, and her continuing quest for Horton to notice her will have even the hardest of hearts melting by the end of the show.

Clark Devlin is scarily realistic as a child, and has the mannerisms, spirit and cutesy voice of Jojo down to a fine art, whilst Jessica Parker goes to town with all of her showgirl numbers, oozing pazazz and sparkle. A special mention must also go to the three Bird Girls (Tanya Shields, Jennifer Low and Amy Punter) who produced some classy, tight harmonies throughout.

However, the real star of the show is David Hunter, who brings such an endearing quality to Horton that it’s hard not to push Gertrude out of the way to gain his affections first. His natural connection to the audience takes everybody along for the ride with him, and you can’t help but be on his side. Hunter’s singing voice is as strong as ever, and his seamless ability to act throughout every song makes us question why he didn’t reach the final of ITV1′s Superstar. Although Lord Webber’s loss is Seussical’s huge gain.

Phillip Rowntree’s direction makes the most of the high octane score and captures the silliness beautifully, whilst the choreography by Cressida Carré is sharp and clean, suiting the several different musical styles with ease, as well as adding another exciting dimension to the rainbow-coloured set and costumes. Although this is supposedly a children’s show, you’ll be begging your daughter/nephew/local Primary School to get a ticket just so you can accompany them without feeling guilty. However, there’s no shame to be found here. Amongst all the fun and occasional back-flipping, there’s a strong moral at the heart of the story, and Horton’s continuing mantra – ‘a person’s a person, no matter how small’ – left us feeling renewed and slightly empowered, although that may have been helped by the pre-show mulled wine.

This is feel-good family fun at its very best, and we defy anyone to find anything else in the West End this Christmas so wholesome, without the faintest whiff of anything patronising. Leave your bags of stress and shopping at the door, and enjoy 80 minutes of unadulterated fantasy.

Seussical presented by the Sell A Door Theatre Company runs at the Arts Theatre, Leicester Square until 6 January 2013. Tickets are available online, or by calling 020 7836 8463. All images by Darren Bell Photography.

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