New Paltz High School (NPHS)’s annual spring stage musical, Seussical, officially hits the boards next Thursday evening, March 22, and runs through Saturday, March 24. Judging by a peek backstage at rehearsals last week, all the kids (and a few adults) involved in the production are psyched up and in fine voice. The timing is perfect, with the 75th anniversary of the publication of the first Dr. Seuss book just past in February and the movie version of The Lorax a current smash at the box office.
But according to Nancy Owen, advisor/director to the musical as well as to the Drama Club at the high school, that fortuitous timing is just a coincidence. “We decided to do it last May,” she says. “It’s the first time that we ever announced it that early.” Why Seussical? “We had a lot of kids in [NPHS’s spring 2011 musical production] A Chorus Line who were seniors, and we had a lot of enthusiastic younger kids who wanted to get involved.” Seussical was deemed a good fit for the new group because, says Owen, “It has a large cast and takes a lot of energy. They have to keep switching characters.”
Owen and her young charges are clearly excited about the 30+ musical numbers in the show, composed by Stephen Flaherty with lyrics by Lynn Ahrens (Monty Python’s Eric Idle was also involved in Seussical’s conception). “The music is so catchy. I promise you, you’ll go to bed and have songs stuck in your head,” enthuses Owen.
It was indeed the music that persuaded junior Seth Roberts to audition for his first-ever part in a NPHS stage production. “When I tried out, they said, ‘Why aren’t you in chorus?’ I’m definitely more of a singer than an actor,” says Roberts. “Ever since my older brother played Horton in his middle school musical, I’ve always wanted to be Horton. I knew all the songs.” Roberts unveiled Horton the Elephant’s big number, “Alone in the Universe,” at the NPHS band and chorus spring scholarship concert last Thursday, dueting with sophomore Ashley Mazzei, who plays JoJo.
“JoJo is the smallest of the Whos,” explains Mazzei, who was in the chorus in A Chorus Line last year. “He starts out as the Boy [from The Cat in the Hat], but the Cat pushes him into this Who family.” JoJo is a Thinker, and it’s the fact that he “Thinks differently from the rest of the Whos” that provides the glue holding the musical’s storyline together, interweaving themes and characters from some 15 different Dr. Seuss books. “The Whos don’t like that, so they send him to war to stop Thinking and causing trouble,” notes Mazzei.
“There’s a big antiwar message in this play,” agrees senior Sadie Moran, a veteran of lead parts in several past NPHS productions, including last fall’s drama The Death and Life of Larry Benson. The war-satire subplot, drawn from The Butter Battle Book, mostly revolves around the character of General Genghis Kahn Schmitz, played by senior Chris Mazzei. “But Horton Hears a Who is definitely the central storyline of the play,” adds Moran, who serves in a sort of narrator role as the Cat in the Hat. Onstage for much of the show, the Cat “breaks the fourth wall with the audience…I mess with things a lot. I run on, make trouble and run off.”
The show offers excellent opportunities for involvement backstage as well. “This is a creative show for set people,” Owen says, indicating the painting of backdrops and flyers then in progress in the high school hallway. “Becca Cotton was excited about the fun costuming that she could do.”
Senior Sarah Dukler certainly gets to strut her stuff in her Mayzie LaBird costume. “I have a multicolored feather wig and a sort of crown. It’s awesome!” says Dukler, who also got to belt out one of Mayzie’s boisterous numbers at the scholarship concert, dueting with junior Allison Albrecht as Gertrude McFuzz. “It is very fun playing Mayzie. As a person I’m very ‘out-there,’ so it’s like a magnified version of myself.” Dukler is unfazed by the prospect of portraying one of Dr. Seuss’s less-sympathetic characters. “She’s a more developed character than in the book. Mayzie is also very selfish in the play, but she has a redemption at the end. Giving her egg to Horton is the only generous thing she’s ever done,” says Dukler, who sees Mayzie as a “dynamic character” rather than a villain. “There’s no one you can really hate in this play — it’s so over-the-top. It’s a cartoon, it’s very visual.”
Also in the cast of Seussical are Elazia Pollard, Aliyah Cohn, Lily Bergstein, Bianca Schloo, Ari Raskin, Liz Corey, Holden Carroll, Stefan Shepko, Alekz Obry, Brianne Rawlins and Liam Roberts. Karyn Morehouse serves as assistant director, Nicole Ferrante as musical director and Kate Weston as choreographer.
Besides premiering a couple of numbers at the scholarship concert, some of the cast provided a sneak peek to residents of the memory care facility at Woodland Pond this past Saturday — including the grandfather of Seth Roberts, who does community service every weekend by singing with the seniors at Woodland Pond. Roberts was anticipating that the residents of the facility would get a kick out of the special performance: “Everyone loves Dr. Seuss!”
You can get your own invigorating dose of Dr. Seuss by attending a performance of Seussical at the high school auditorium on Thursday, Friday or Saturday evening, March 22 through 24, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets go for $12 for adults, $10 for students and seniors. A bargain-priced matinée at 2 p.m. on Saturday, March 24, offers $7 admission for all. There’s also a very special patrons package for those who wish to support the NPHS theatre program: $35 gets you two tickets to any performance, with prime seating guaranteed. To purchase tickets to Seussical, call 256-4111. ++