Diamond Valley Singers
24 March to 1 April
By Lucas Ioppolo
Found myself back in Warrandyte last night to attend the opening night of the latest production from the Diamond Valley Singers, Seussical Jr. When theatre performers and patrons reach adulthood and they’ve been in the theatre game for a long enough time, many people tend to discredit a lot of juniour productions and look down upon them, but that’s mostly because those people have forgotten what it was like to be a youth performer and it’s important to keep in mind that younger casts are still developing their skills. Sure, adult productions or open productions may have casts and prod teams with many more years of experience under their belt, but at the end of the day, many of them got their start in youth and school productions and it’s these shows in particular that remind us where we began our journey and transport us back to a simpler time. With memories of childhood innocence instilled with one’s ever growing love for theatre, its junior shows where the magic begins and truly lives on and DVS’ musical retelling of the tales of Dr. Seuss was one of the most perfect examples to demonstrate this statement.
Seussical is easily one of the most colourful theatrical shows to ever grace the stage, both literally and figuratively but it does not come to fruition without a killer prod team to make it happen. A rarity in the amateur theatre circuit these days, this spectacular, surrealist show had two directors in the form of Lexi Patman and Tommy Murphy, who were the director and title character of last year’s juniour DVS production of Shrek respectively, proved that it takes two to tango. Together, they designed a picturesque creative vision that sensually brought the world of both the Whos and Jungle Animals to life in arguably one of the most beautiful set designs the company has ever presented to the world. Patman and Murphy unleashed their inner child to make sure that they were able to guide their young cast to greatness no matter how much training they’ve had throughout their theatre journies, allowing them to be free and friendly with one another to create the family atmosphere needed to tell the beloved stories that make up the musical’s source material and by the end, the entire audience felt like kids again and family too on this exciting ride. Making his musical director debut, young Sam Thomas rose to the occasion to utilise his extensive musical training and showcase the fact that he’s not a one trick pony but a theatre virtuoso in his own right. It’s never an easy task to musically direct a large cast through various and complex melodies and harmonies, especially a cast that comprises solely of individuals under the age of eighteen, but Thomas made it look like child’s play in a vocally stunning display that constantly promoted the importance of unison and unity in youth productions. Patman also held choreographic duties with assistant choreographer Kym Veale and their collaboration was a highly smooth and solid one as barely any step was out of place and if a mistake was made, no one on stage drew attention to themselves and carried on giving outstanding performances, which not many performers can achieve at such a young age. Patman and Veale accomplished what many choreographers have been trying to do with casts for years and the fact that it was a youth cast makes it ever more commendable.
When writing a review for a juniour show, I always need to make sure that no one in the cast feels left out and it’ll be really hard to with a cast as wondrous and wacky, in the best way possible, as this one. First, my hat goes off to the entire ensemble for making Seussical Jr. the great youthful masterpiece that it was, it would not have been the same without your involvement and my heart was full watching all of you make this creation a complete one. Next, to the featured players for making each of your characters stand out, from Bethany McCann and Jordan Smith as the Thing 1 and 2 and your high energy dance and gymnastic skills. Dante Tuscano, Arlo Charlton and Riley Ahlers as the Grinch, Vlad Vladikoff and Yertle The Turtle for your constant commitment to your craft. Chloe Thomas, Grace March and Jinny Charlton as the Wickersham Brothers and Eliza Veale , Phoebe Wiley and Izzie Milkins as the Bird Girls for your dazzling three part harmonies and coming from a former Wickersham brother, I think all six of you rocked with your vocals. Finally, to Eden Comito and little Aidan Berger as the Young Kangaroo and the Elephant Bird Hatchling for an adorable display that pit a smile on everyone’s faces.
Now we come to the eight main leads. Evie Patton and Mia Dimmock both added such golly and grandeur to the show as Mr and Mrs Mayor and even their roles were reduced in the juniour production, ensured us that they would not be forgotten. Lily Cotter’s turn as the Sour Kangaroo involved her delivering such striking and soulful vocals that can make the R&B divas of the world envious and delivered on her character’s promise to give Seussical its fire. Amiya Cameron really was the definition of Amayzing Mayzie La Bird as her groovy and glamorous portrayal of the self centred bird blew everyone away, egg, nest and tree while still highlighting her redeeming qualities despite the character’s many flaws. Ellouise Gale did a full 180 to her role as Donkey in last year’s Shrek Jr. to portray the graceful Gertrude McFuzz but the role came so naturally to her that her vibrance and versatility as an actress really were the driving force behind her phenomenal portrayal. Leigh Patton shined in her biggest role to date as Horton The Elephant as the gentle giant was a role that was seemingly tailor made for her and her evolving efforts made her performance ever the more humbling and heartwarming, qualities one needs to play Horton convincingly. Hudson Malone was the MC of emcees in his role as the Cat In The Hat, proving that he was the perfect host for the evening by holding the audience and Seuss universe in the palm of his hands in a highly engaging and entertaining turn of the beloved children’s icon. Perhaps the greatest performance achievement of the night came from the production’s queen, Cara Licciardo and her portrayal of JoJo, as her imagination and innovation really illustrated the entire narrative and captured the heart of not only the audience and her fellow company members but the character she played itself. My mind was officially blown by Licciardo’s dedication to the role of JoJo and the only other person who’s commitment matched her own was when Georgia Slaymaker played the same role in the production I was in four years ago and if Slaymaker was able to get an award nomination for her delivery then Licciardo could easily get nominated too.
Diamond Valley Singers’ Seussical Jr. is the absolute definition of theatre done right for any age group and it’s juniour productions like this one that allow us to reminisce on the early days of our theatre journies with pride, regard how far youth theatre has come since we first did it and remember why we loved our humble beginnings to begin with. There was no room for judgement in the audience’s hearts when watching this presentation and the love that filled the theatre will be contagious on all those around you long after the show’s final curtain call. Special shoutout to Leigh and Evie Patton, Eden Comito, Charlotte Moore, Ruby Houchen and Aidan Berger for their performances in their show and to Lexi and Keryn Patman, Sam Thomas and Malcolm Wilton for their work behind the scenes and to entire company associated with Seuss Jr. on a fantastic opening night. If you want to experience what it was like to be a young theatre performer in a simpler more magical time, make sure you get your tickets while you still can, support the company and support local theatre. Congratulations to the entire team of Diamond Valley Singers and remember to think and wonder and dream, far and wide as you dare.
About the Author
Lucas Ioppolo is a community theatre performer with a passion to bring a positive energy and encouragement to those in theatre who have gone unnoticed or underrepresented. He hopes his reviews can help bring the spotlight back to a community that has helped him throughout the years.
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