The Whos down in Whoville are as small as a gnat/
Or so we’ve been told by the Cat in the Hat/
For Horton and JoJo it’s all the rage/
It’s “Seussical” time at Imagination Stage!
OK, now that we’ve got that out of the way — all of your favorite Dr. Seuss characters are set to come to life as Imagination Stage presents the musical “Seussical” starting Nov. 17.
“Seussical” debuted on Broadway in 2000 and received notoriety for the celebrities playing the Cat in the Hat, such as Rosie O’Donnell and Cathy Rigby.
Although nominated for several awards, such as various Drama Desk selections and a Tony nod for Kevin Chamberlin, who played Horton the Elephant, the show received less than stellar reviews from critics and closed on Broadway in 2001.
“Seussical” has found new life through national tours, overseas tours and various productions throughout the U.S.
For actors and crew at Imagination Stage in Bethesda, taking on “Seussical” was a labor of love.
“Seussical is, I think, such a high-energy show — like, non-stop,” says Matthew A. Anderson, who plays Horton. “I’ve done a lot of shows with a big number [of cast members] and a small number, and you can kind of lounge around backstage. In this show, it’s just non-stop.”
In the show, Horton hears the Whos, who are floating around until they land on a flower. He then goes through many different challenges while trying to keep the Whos safe.
The show revolves around Horton a lot, but it also focuses in on little JoJo, who ends up having adventures all of his own — some good, some not so good.
Svea Johnson, 9, and Simon Diesenhaus, 12, will split the role of JoJo on different days.
“I was super excited [about being cast],” Simon says. “This is my first professional job.”
“I’m more excited about some shows over others, but I was very excited,” Svea adds.
Despite their ages, Anderson and director Janet Stanford both rave about the professional approach taken by both children.
“They are both so talented. They’re very different — it scares me how talented they are,” Anderson says. “I think when I was their age, I had just learned to walk. They’re probably the ones having problems working with us. They came in knowing what they were doing.”
“Both of them came in the first day of rehearsal and knew their music,” Stanford adds. “For them, the biggest challenge is the dance number. They are delightful young people and very smart.
“We know young people like to see young people on stage.”
With that in mind, there is a little blurb on the Imagination Stage website saying the show is “Best for ages 4-12.” But Stanford says adults will enjoy it just as much as children.
“I think it’s a holiday kind of thing,” Stanford says. “It’s very light-hearted and fun, but there are very moving moments as well. It’s very much a family show.
“Often, when you go to the theater with young people, you enjoy their enjoyment of it. You can enjoy it through their eyes.”
Simon and Svea both agree some of the best parts of the show have been working with new people and enjoying time with some of the funny castmates.
“[Matt’s] really nice and cool,” Simon says. “I enjoy it because we can connect. He’s a really cool guy.”
“I think it’s really fun being in the show,” Svea adds. “I really enjoy the company of the cast and crew members and the people I’ve met so far.”
It’s also fun for Svea because she gets to be picked up in the show.
“I really like it when they pick me up — they pick me up three times in the show,” Svea says. “Everyone in my house is small and everyone [in the show] is big. In my house no one picks me up.”
But what about the all-important Cat in the Hat, played by Jamie Smithson?
“Jamie is a character and a half,” Anderson says. “He’s hysterical. He tries a lot of things and he’s not afraid to try new things. He’s so adventurous in this role.”
“Jamie is really funny and clever and creative,” Simon adds. “So is everyone else in the cast.”
So come to the show, set in the Jungle of Nool/
Where the Wickersham Brothers are so very cool/
And Mayzie LaBird’s tail might just be hot pink/
If you’re willing to sit and have a good think!