Written by Leslie Lube
At the end of this month, a cast of 16 SU students will present “Seussical” to over 1300 children from nearby elementary and middle schools. “Seussical the Musical,” which is the musical adaptation of the works of beloved children’s author Dr. Seuss, is a full, two-act show that premiered on Broadway in 2000 with music by Stephan Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens.
The original show is a fairly complex compilation of 17 of Seuss’s most famous stories, and it was only moderately successful on stage. The show has experienced greater success, however, since it began touring in regional theatres. Music Theatre International produced a special, 70-minute, one-act version for the Theatre for Young Audiences. The shorter version leaves out a few characters and songs as well as the military subplot of the original to create a story that has been extremely popular with children across the country.
The SU thespians will be performing the Theatre for Young Audiences version of “Seussical”, which includes characters from “Horton Hears a Who”, “The Cat in the Hat”, “Myrtle the Turtle”, “McElligot’s Pool”, “Horton Hatches an Egg” and “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!”
“This is a perfect opportunity for us,” Dr. Rick Roemer, theatre professor and the show’s director, said. “We were looking for a musical that could engage kids and that had a good message.”
Roemer teaches a class called Musical Theatre Workshop, and the students in this class make up the cast of “Seussical.” The interview they completed to take the class took the place of an audition for the show, which will also serve as their final. Roemer has taught the class every other year for the past several years, but this is the first time that a full-scale musical presentation will be a part of the class since the theatre department now offers a degree in musical theatre.
The class meets on Fridays from 2-4:30, and the students have been using class time to prepare the show. Now that “The Country Wife” is finished they have added extra rehearsals during the week.
“The rehearsal schedule is pretty rigorous,” Junior Michelle Haberl said. “We meet for three hours a day, four days a week.”
The cast includes Bradley Acree as Horton the Elephant, Claire McAdams as the Cat in the Hat, Taryn Stafford as Gertrude, Natalie Kabenjian as Mayzie and Evan Faram as the Wickersham brother.
All of the students have been working hard to get the show ready before Thanksgiving because the performances start the week after the break.
“Rehearsals are going well,” Haberl said, who serves as assistant stage manager. “We have a couple more weeks until we perform, and I think that we’ll be prepared.”
“The students have been incredible,” Roemer said. “They are really bringing the show to life. It is a very time-consuming project, and we spend a great deal of time together, but they have been terrific.”
While the main goal of the class is to produce the show, Roemer tries to use class time to share ideas with his students that they can apply to any theatre experience.
“I want to help them understand that the performance itself is just one part of the overall experience,” he said. “It’s like the basic performance is the shell of the egg, and the passion and character and everything that you put into your performance is the yolk of the egg. That’s the important part, and what I try to help them discover.”
Roemer feels that performing “Seussical” for so many children is a special opportunity for the students in his class. The show’s message stresses the importance of tolerance and acceptance of others.
“It teaches these kids about the importance of non-bias and speaks out against prejudice,” he said. “It’s a great show, and I’m not saying that we’re pushing these ideas on kids, but they’re a part of the story and something that the kids can pick up on.”
Haberl agrees with Roemer’s analysis of the story’s message.
“I love the show so much because it tells the story of the human race through the characters of the Whos without the darkness and graphic detail of a more adult drama,” she said. “I think that it conveys a poignant message about dealing with fears and a lack of control over life that is embodied in the Whos’ experience. The essence of the play is expressed in the quote, ‘A person’s a person no matter how small,’ and I think that this is meaningful to children because they are small people who have to deal with fears and feelings of helplessness.”
Another important aspect of the show is the opportunity that the cast has to introduce children to live theatre. For many of the students attending the performances this is their first experience with a play or musical.
“We hope that the experience stimulates them in a fun way,” Roemer said. “I mean, we’re creative people so we think that these kinds of things are important, and we want to share them with as many people as possible.”
One of the goals of the theatre department is to introduce young people to the theatre. Roemer talked about the fact that recent generations of children have seen far more movies and television programs than live performances, and the SU theatre students and faculty want to show children what a special experience it is to watch a play or a musical live.
“This goal [to introduce children to the theatre] gives a purpose to our performance of ‘Seussical’,” said Roemer. “I told the cast that if just one person in the audience has never been to a live performance it is worth it for us to give it all we have so that they enjoy the experience.”
Haberl also feels that a musical has a lot to offer to children and adults alike.
“Music colors drama in a very beautiful and powerful way. There are emotions that can be conveyed through music better than through words alone,” she said. “That’s not to say that musicals are better than straight plays. They just provide a different way to express and experience emotion.”
Haberl encourages everyone to come to the public performances of “Seussical” because it is not meant solely for children.
“I just love this musical drama, and I think that the show is a priceless experience for anyone who watches it,” she said.
“Seussical” runs from November 27 through December 2. The Tuesday through Friday performances will take place during the day and are reserved for local children. The Saturday and Sunday performances will take place at 3:00 p.m. and the entire SU community is invited to attend. As with any other show, students can reserve two free tickets by visiting the Jones Theatre box office.