BAR HARBOR — Hundreds of folks left The Criterion Theatre last weekend with broad grins on their faces, happy tunes on their lips and visions of colorful critters dancing in their heads.
It was the second weekend of performances of Acadia Community Theater’s enchanting production of “Seussical.” It’s a pretty sure bet that even the Grinchiest of Grinches went home with a happy heart, especially those who attended the final performance on Saturday night, which ended with a real proposal. More on that later.
Oh, the places this energetic and accomplished cast and crew took us in this show, including the miniature world of Who, the Circus McGurkus, Dubuque and the wondrous land of Solla Sollew.
And, oh, the characters we met along the way. They included the steadfast Horton the Elephant, played with just the right amount of earnest melancholy by Jeffrey Servetas, and his tiny, Who-friend Jojo, played by the dreamily delightful Finn Hansbury, a Conners Emerson eighth-grader. Jojo’s duet with Horton, “Alone in the Universe,” was a sweet highlight of the show. Get ready, Mount Desert Island High School, a new triple threat is on his way.
Then there was the lovelorn nerdy bird Gertrude McFuzz, played to dorky physical perfection by Christina Longstreeth, who also choreographed the fun dance sequences in the show. Playing the magnificent Mayzie La Bird with sparkling crimson, well, magnificence was Danielle Shepard-Jones; Lysso Sanborn aced the part of a reformed Grinch, and Julie Creed made a terrific Sour Kangaroo, whose booming voice was a clarion counterpart to the sweet piping of her pouch Baby Kangaroo, Penelope Shepard. And speaking of booming voices, Josh Howie couldn’t have been more fun as General Schmitz, looking like a cross between an armored samurai and a drum major. He morphed his usual velvet smooth tenor into a drill sergeant’s sturm und drang, marching his cadets through “I do not like green eggs and ham! I do not like them, Sam-I-am!” and heading to battle in a war between those who prefer their toast butter side up and the butter side downers.
And it wouldn’t be a proper ACT production without Rose Iuro-Damon, who played Jojo’s fretful mother alongside Ray Vonder Haar as her husband, the mayor of Whoville.
Most of the rest of this large cast formed a veritable Noah’s Ark of fabulous creatures, including beautiful, sweetly singing Bird Girls; a mob of cheeky Monkeys, rambunctious, blue haired Things and schools of adorable glittery Fish. There were a couple of Sneetches, a Barbaloot, a Lunk and Hunches, a Lorax an Obsk and, oh my, a Bippo-no-Bungus.
Orchestrating this amazing menagerie and the stories they all represented like a Seussian sorcerer was the Cat in the Hat, a role Thomas Van Gorder seems to have been born to perform. At times, he was a scheming troublemaker, a mischievous master of ceremonies or a vaudevillian hoofer. At other times, he was a Bourbon Street bluesman, a circus ring master and, even for a horribly cacophonous moment, a band conductor until, thank goodness, Music Director Catie Forthofer grabbed her baton back.
Of course, the real wizard behind all these shenanigans was director Mark Puglisi, who managed to seamlessly send wave after wave of critters and characters rolling, dancing, tumbling and leaping across the Criterion stage.
Each and every one of the 50-plus cast members thoroughly embraced their roles, engaging the audiences’ attention thoroughly. So engaged, in fact, that at one point at Friday night’s show, when Jojo’s survival is briefly in question, the theater, which seemed to be filled with every MDI child who wasn’t on stage, grew so quiet with concern you could have heard one of Gertrude’s tail feathers molt.
Then again, Jaylene Roths’ marvelous costume designs, such as the one for a Tizzle-topped Tufted Mazurka, a polychromatic bird thing with a four-foot neck, would have convinced anyone who donned them that they had been magically turned into a Seuss character. Mia Eason bore this magnificent Mazurka creation as if she had been hatched for it.
Credit also must go to the dozens of volunteers and parents who worked on these costumes, because it was not easy to translate Dr. Seuss’ fringed, furry, feathered and fantastical illustrations into fabric. Kudos as well to the crews who helped create and paint the multilevel set Puglisi and Doug Van Gorder designed, faithfully adhering to the original book illustrations. Anyone who grew up on Dr. Seuss fare would have recognized Horton’s tree and Yertle’s turtle tower.
The 15 or so piece pit orchestra of students, professionals and talented amateurs, conducted by Forthofer, who also coaxed some great musical moments from the cast, was outstanding.
So, about that proposal? Servetas, who played Horton, added an extra bit of romantic magic to the final show when he dropped to one elephantine knee at the curtain call and asked Gertrude McFuzz, uh, Longstreeth, to marry him, and she said “yes.” This couple also played Fiona and Shrek in last spring’s musical, so it appears that Jiminy Cricket was right all along. “Fairy tales can come true.”
About now, you’re probably kicking yourself if you missed seeing “Seussical.” But fear not, ACT has other delights in the offing in the months to come, including the thriller “39 Steps” and another Shakespeare collaboration with the Barn Arts Collective.