KPBS AIRDATE: July 07, 2006
Moral guidance for kids and a moral dilemma for adults. The theater gives you plenty of thinks to think about – whether it’s the ethical quandary of “Collected Stories” or the life lessons of Dr. Seuss. The late La Jolla resident Theodor Geisel, AKA Dr. Seuss, was famous for his whimsical drawings and clever rhymes. But as the musical “Seussical” reminds us, he was always imparting important messages – about keeping your promise, standing up for what’s right, being true to yourself, letting your choices be guided by your imagination and your heart. And a valuable homily for these divisive days: “A person’s a person no matter how small.”
The musical by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty doesn’t reach the heights they scaled with “Ragtime,” but it includes many of the quirky characters and meaningful implications of the Seuss stories it draws from, which turns out to be a few too many: from the Cat in the Hat to Horton and the Whos, Gertrude McFuzz and the Sour Kangaroo. It’s a bit overblown … and overwritten. When Cathy Rigby came flying in on the national tour, it had no charm whatsoever. But Moonlight Stage Productions has made the show soar. Co-directors David Engel and Kathy Brombacher create a magical wonderland, thanks to marvelous costumes and a terrific, energetic cast, headed by irresistible Eric Vest, an SDSU musical theater alum, as the mischievous Cat and Justin Robertson, who brings enormous heart to Horton. Twelve year-old Troy Hussman is delightful as imaginative little JoJo, Christa Jackson is spunky as the ever-loving, measly-tailed Gertrude McFuzz, and Brittany Paige is sexy and high-spirited as “Amazing Mayzie.” The singing, dancing and musical accompaniment make for excellent entertainment. And if there’s a lesson or two learned, so much the better.
Moral ambiguity is served up in “Collected Stories,” a wonderfully provocative, Pulitzer-nominated play written in 1997 by Donald Margulies. Basing his work on the controversy surrounding novelist David Leavitt’s borrowing of passages from the memoir of poet Stephen Spender , Margulies has created two very intriguing female characters: an established and cantankerous short story writer and her adoring protégé, a raw talent in need of a mentor. They become friends, colleagues and ultimately, rivals. The question at bottom is, who owns a story? And what are the limits of friendship and loyalty? Under the expert directorial baton of David Ellenstein, this duet is marvelously played. Kandis Chappell, who originated the role at South Coast Rep, and reprised it at the Globe, is brilliant as the thorny, funny, ailing, envious, wistful and wounded Ruth. Amanda Sitton brings depth and dimension to ambitious young Lisa, who may or may not be guilty of an unforgivable betrayal.
Talent, entertainment, inspiration and provocation. It doesn’t get any better than that.
©2006 Patté Productions Inc.