The brilliant minds behind the design of ImaginOn — Bob Cannon, the former Executive Director of the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County (PLCMC), and Bruce LaRowe, Executive Director of Children's Theatre of Charlotte — have created the kind of go-to space I wish I'd had as a kid. Both a children's library and home to the McColl Family Theatre, the space fairly pops with color and vitality, inviting children to explore, to use their imaginations, and participate in bringing "stories to life."
The space opened in 2005, and ever since there have been a dizzying array of opportunities for learning the performance arts of singing, movement, acting, and even stage combat. Children actively explore the elements of drama through graded workshops, with the most serious students enrolled in the School of Theatre Training Program. With such a fabulous curriculum in place, a professional new theater, and superb artistic directors, it's no wonder that their productions are first-rate.
Seussical, a musical based on the works of Dr. Seuss, opened on Broadway in 2000. The music was composed by Stephen Flaherty, with lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and book by Lynn Ahrens, Stephen Flaherty and Eric Idle. While there are elements from 15 of his books, they are combined in imaginative and often unexpected new ways (e.g., "I Don't Like Green Eggs and Ham" becomes a marching cadence").
The production in the Queen City is by the Childrens Theatre of Charlotte.
The Cat in the Hat is our guide as we meet these characters and travel with them to places such as the Jungle of Nool and McElligott's Pool, and even Palm Beach. Horton the Elephant, the lazy bird Mayzie, and a family of Whos frame the narrative which touches on the bonds of friendship, the importance of individual diversity and tolerance. The dialogue will leave you racking your brain for the book source of the best one-liners. The pacing is fast and beautifully integrates music, dancing, and dialogue in two 45-minute acts.
The production was a marvel of professionalism. These kids know how to simultaneously move, dance in a variety of styles, sing with clear diction and in beautiful tones, and interact with each other onstage in a totally natural way without being self conscious. The entire cast's level of confidence and understanding of their craft is of the sort of caliber one normally associates with New York or LA. The audience was thoroughly enchanted, with many delighted oohs and aahs and clappings. The three-year-old sitting next to me on his mother's lap particularly enjoyed catching the bubbles that drifted down during the singing of "Anything's Possible." Others looked ready to leap into the action themselves. To spur further discussion at home, the audience is given not only a playbill, but also a "family play guide," with questions for discussion and suggestions for related activities.
There were children and adults in the production. Children first: Kudos especially to Sam Faulkner (JoJo) who sang so many beautiful solos, to the trio of Bird Girls (Casi Harris, Caroline Chisholm and Mandy Moss) and the Sour Kangaroo (Nicole Watts) and Baby Kangaroo (Katlyn Gonzalez) all who sang and danced with superb attitude, also to the 3 Wickershams (Jonathan Adriel Watkins, Ashton Guthrie, and Mekhai Lee). Thing 1 and Thing 2 (Julia Kelly and Susannah Upchurch) were darling sidekicks, often to The Cat himself.
Among the spirited adults of the cast were Cat in the Hat (Mark Sutton), Horton (Chaz Pofahl), Gertude (Susan Roberts Knowlson), Mayzie (Lucia Stetson), and Who Mayor (Andy Faulkenberry), and Mrs. Mayor (Olivia Edge).
Kudos to the production staff, especially director Alan Poindexter, choreographer Ron Chisholm musical director Drina Keen, and costumer Connie Furr. Keyboardist Pat Cray led the pit band of musicians and cued the singers. You created a thing of wonder, something beautiful and profound to ponder and to remember.
This show continues through 10/23. For details, see the sidebar.