SCHS takes on ‘Seussical’

Colorful characters hit the stage next week
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Anyone who enjoys “The Cat in the Hat” and other tales by Dr. Seuss will get a chance to see their childhood stories come alive.

Shawano Community High School’s music and theater department are bringing “Seussical the Musical” to its hallowed halls next week, beginning with a Wednesday matinee and continuing through Feb. 3.

The main plot follows Horton the Elephant and tells how he discovers a speck of dust populated by Whos. While protecting the Whos from a group of folks who don’t believe anything living could exist on dust, Horton is left with an egg to watch over after the irresponsible Mayzie LaBird decides to take off and pursue other things.

The Cat in the Hat serves as narrator, and there’s even appearances by Gertrude McFuzz, Yertle the Turtle, the Sour Kangaroo and the Grinch.

It’s not the first time locals have had the chance to see “Seussical.” The Box in the Wood Theatre Guild performed the musical in July 2014, while Gresham Community School and Bonduel High School both performed the junior version in 2016.

The main difference from the previous three productions is that SCHS will have a full orchestra to play the music that the student actors will sing. All told, almost 90 students are involved in this production, on the stage, in the pit or behind the curtain.

The material is more familiar to the cast due to the timeless appeal of Dr. Seuss books, but the show’s score was a little challenging at first for the orchestra, according to director Jonathon Kent.

“They weren’t afraid to use all the major keys,” Kent said. “Usually in the shows, anything beyond five sharps or five flats, they don’t get into.”

“Seussical” was selected because it was a show that could be cast easily at SCHS, according to Kent.

“My talent pool, unlike a community production where the talent can come from all over, is here,” Kent said. “Even though we have students from the middle school and Olga Brener and some of our homeschoolers, 90 percent of the cast comes out of the high school. Knowing who I have available, presumably, decides what kind of show we want to do.”

Kent knew he would need a younger boy to play the curious and adventurous Jojo, but he surprisingly found two. Sixth-grade student Rutger Johnson will play Jojo in the Wednesday and Friday shows next week, while George Buerman, who played one of the Banks children in last year’s “Mary Poppins,” will portray the Who boy in the Thursday and Saturday shows.

“This is the first time since ‘Les Miz’ in 2005, where we had two boys,” Kent said. “We have two very strong boys this year.”

“Seussical” also appealed to Kent because of the catchy songs, like “Oh, the Thinks You Can Think” and “Alone in the Universe.”

“This show is loaded with earworms. They keep coming back to you,” Kent said. “The kids have adapted to the songs fairly quickly.”

Most of the cast has been diligent about memorizing lines and songs, Kent said, with only a couple of minor exceptions. He noted that the lighthearted tone has helped.

“There’s no deep drama in this show,” Kent said. “This is a feel-good show because, in the end, Horton, who is being persecuted, is exonerated, and everybody’s in love with everybody.”

The stage is two levels for “Seussical” with the upper level, decorated in bright colors and background similar to the art in Seuss’ books, for the Whos, while the lower level is reserved mainly for Horton and the other jungle characters. Because the Whos are tiny in comparison to Horton, the show includes a giant, constructed magnifying glass to “see” the Whos clearly, Kent said.

“The couple or three times I’ve seen this show, it’s very difficult to understand that you’re going to Whoville, so we’ve made our upper level of our set our Whoville,” Kent said. “Certainly, when someone else is on the stage, our Whos are in Whoville.”

This will be the final musical directed by Kent, the high school choir director who is retiring in June. Including “Seussical,” Kent has directed 19 musicals at the school.

“It’s time,” Kent said. “Being in the wheelchair has made some things much harder. I’ve had to use words a lot more to explain what I want them to do, and it’s so much quicker to show them what I want to do.

“There’s part of me that’s sad about that, but there’s part of me where I’m OK with it more with the disability more than if I didn’t have it.”

AT A GLANCE
WHAT: “Seussical”
WHEN: 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Auditorium, Shawano Community High School, 220 County Road B, Shawano
TICKETS: $12 adults, $9 senior citizens 60 and over, $6 students