Horton Hats A Who

Jessica Hsu/Guardian

Hey, guys?” Rachelle Fuhrer asked the harmonizing cast of “Seussical the Musical,” most of whom had just returned from a pizza break.

“We’re back!” she snapped. “Seats, please.”

Like complacent kindergartners in a nostalgic Norman Rockwell, they plunked into the chairs before her, eagerly awaiting instruction. Their picturesque obedience was broken only by a mohawk, a pair of leopard ears and the candy cane-striped top hat of the Cat in the Hat among the crowd.

It’s a weighty thing to direct the annual Muir Musical, and yet another to transform such a hodgepodge of drama students into the smiley inhabitants of Whoville.

Somehow, though, despite a double major in mathematics/computer science and interdisciplinary computing and the arts, Fuhrer has managed to pull off both Thing One and Thing Two.

The cardboard cutouts of the tropical Jungle of Nool whisk her from her everyday black-and-white world of binary code arrangements to the more prismatic language of Dr. Seuss, brought to life onstage in a whirlwind of feather boas and polka-dot stage lighting.

In “Seussical,” Fuhrer explained, there’s “no formula — no right answer, no wrong answer. The idea, visually and theatrically, is that it’s a storybook coming to life.”

But her affinity for number-crunching doesn’t hurt either. When it comes to financial matters, she and stage manager Janessa Marks — a major in (you guessed it) economics — are “organizationally OCD, and nazis with money,” and have allocated only 80 percent of the itemized budget to each team in production.

Like all tales in the Dr. Seuss canon, the musical also carries an underlying moral lesson.

“‘Seussical’ is not just about a cutesy elephant,” Fuhrer said. “There are very real problems, like child abandonment and drug addiction. We’re just sugar-coating it in Dr. Seuss style.”

Her own sugary personality seems to stick the cast obliging and the show intact. Having acted in three previous Muir Musicals and choreographed last year’s rendition of “Kiss Me, Kate,” Fuhrer now directs “Seussical” with the intent of keeping the process “organic.”

“The actors are not puppets,” she said. “They’re people and want to have their own heart and soul in what they’re doing.”

Somewhat contrary to Fuhrer’s amicable personality, her mantra throughout “Seussical” has been that “directing is the art of correcting the mistakes you made in casting.” Of course, she hasn’t told that to the cast yet. But throughout rehearsal — less than a week before opening night — a string of onstage mishaps are more than enough to explain the wasteland of empty bottles on the table behind which she and Janessa critique the night’s run-throughs: Diet Coke, an oversized can of Monster and a venti Starbucks cup.

Cueing the music to stop, Fuhrer shouted at the actor playing Horton the elephant: “Jordan, you should still be wearing your scarf!” With a line of assault-rifle props pointed at him, Jordan is scissoring the air with his feet, perched atop a 15-foot paper-mache tree.

“Oh,” Jordan replied coyly. “Should I go get it?”

Rachelle continued fist-pumping the cast and crew through the second act. “You have to learn to love it!” she shouted.

At the Circus McGurkus that followed, one of the performers pointed out yet another technical problem: “I can’t back-flip in a corset.” She did a run-through with it off, but another problem soon surfaced: Jordan is on stage when he should be in the air, back up on the tree. “How do I get back on?” he asked, Horton’s pink-and-purple ball clutched childishly in his hands.

Whether or not Horton finds his way back up come opening night, the air of familial ease bouncing between director, cast and crew in Mandeville Auditorium will make for an authentic storybook experience. Ninety-nine and three-quarters guaranteed.

“Seussical the Musical” runs April 8 through April 10 at Mandeville Auditorium.

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