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Spectacular and Scattered 

Seuss gets scrambled, but Theatre IV puts on a powerhouse production.

But even with this built-in audience, Theatre IV and director Robin Arthur go all out with "Seussical." The costumes (by Terry Snyder and Sarah Grady) are extravagant, the spunky score is impeccably performed (thanks to a crackerjack band led by musical director Paul Deiss), and the cast list reads like a who's who of Richmond's musical theater veterans. This is the kind of show where even the set (designed by Joel Sherry) got a round of applause on opening night. The spectacle and spirit of fun make for an enjoyable evening of theater, particularly for those under-10 (though the two-hour running time may push the patience of the pre-K crowd).

The only disappointment in it all is the inelegant way the show juggles its many story lines. Some of the classic Seuss plotlines are smashed together awkwardly, and others are vaguely evoked rather than enacted. All of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" is squeezed into a few lines in the midst of other action, and "Green Eggs and Ham" is reduced to an army's marching cadence. This works OK as tribute, but is confusing instead of compelling in the context of the show.

The through-line of "Seussical" follows the hapless elephant Horton (Steve Perigard) as he hears faint cries of "Help!" from the dust speck where the Whos of Whoville live. While Horton fights off some pesky monkeys to save Whoville, we also follow JoJo (Jacob Filegar), a Who sent off to war as punishment for his over-active imagination. Various complications arise, eventually requiring the Cat in the Hat (Brett Ambler) to bring JoJo back from the dead and a lovelorn bird, Getrude McFuzz (Robyn O'Neill), to come to Horton's rescue (I'm still puzzling over how Gertrude heard the Whos when no one else but Horton was supposed to be able to.)

Ambler is mischievous and energetic as the emcee of the evening, and Perigard has loads of common-man charm as Horton. These are just two of the stand-outs in a cast that is uniformly excellent down to its smallest member, the amazing Makenzie Mercer. This little imp plays the Kangaroo Kid and has the temerity to match chops with vocal luminary Debra Wagoner (as Horton's nemesis, the Sour Kangaroo). These two make the song "Biggest Blame Fool" a rollicking, bluesy delight.

Performances like these and Theatre IV's outstanding design work may make you overlook the sometimes clumsy — and in the case of the military subplot, downright jarring — narrative of "Seussical." It's just unfortunate that a story that combines so many masterpieces ends up being so average. S



"Seussical: The Musical" plays at Theatre IV's Empire Theater, 114 West Broad St.

Thursday - Sunday, various times, through May 15th. Tickets cost $28-$32. Call 344-8040
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