It was a steep hill to climb, this opening night staging of Seussical : Hold the attention of several hundred mainly adult patrons through 27

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Family Matters

Wedgwood grade school stages Seussical. Spectacular performances ensue.

It was a steep hill to climb, this opening night staging of Seussical: Hold the attention of several hundred mainly adult patrons through 27 musical numbers based on the work of the world's most famous rhyming children's book writer, whose "plots" often appear laced with LSD. And for the first eight numbers, with nary a narrative thread to cling to, the scrappy, mostly junior high-aged Our Lady of the Lake grade school players fought with all their theatrical might to keep co-producer Margaret "Dicki" Donahue Franklin's (Dicki is my aunt) and set design assistant Hank Franklin's (Hank is Dicki's husband, my uncle by marriage, and my former Little League baseball coach) wildly ambitious production from careening off the rails.

Thankfully, the cast succeeded, and by the time the play's two leads -- Horton the Elephant, played with steely reserve by Jamie Hayes, and JoJo, the intellectual pulse of the play embodied with pitch perfect passion by Becky Franklin (Becky, Dicki and Hank's 8th grade daughter, is my cousin) -- took the stage for a gorgeous duet of "Alone in the Universe," the train held firm to the center of the track, and began to gain some serious momentum. In lesser hands, Seussical boasts the potential to be a sprawling, schizophrenic monstrosity. Its success hinges almost entirely on whether or not its cast can deliver spectacular performances. And on this quiet Wedgwood evening, spectacular performances arrived right on time.

Stephanie Rex smoldered as Mayzie. Colleen Baardse's Gertrude conjured a young Lucille Ball. Ann Franklin (Becky's fraternal twin sister, also my cousin) played Mrs. Mayor with Helen Mirren-like reserve opposite Marco Rodriguez's deliciously flamboyant Mr. Mayor. And the Wickersham brothers, played by Joe Throckmorton, Austin Kimerer and Walther Funsinn, nailed the gangly dexterity that defines monkeys in the wild (a good thing: the Wickershams are monkeys).

But as with every good basketball or Iditarod sled dog team, this Seussical would not have reached such a sublime level without the understated chameleonlike brilliance of one Patrick Franklin (Becky and Ann's brother: they're triplets), who took on no less than five roles -- including the Grinch -- as the play's emotional anchor of few words. Any actor can flail about noisily  (see: Robin Williams) -- it's the mark of a true thespian who can become one with the scenery. Patrick Franklin is such a thespian, and if his castmates bring home the hardware come Tony night, his performance should not be forgotten.

 
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