Seussical is a musical extravaganza based on the works of Dr. Seuss. The plot weaves together his most famous tales and characters from at least fifteen of his books. It is a show about courage, imagination and how each are found in every person, “no matter how small”.
The production team have abandoned the naturalistic interpretation of Seussical where Horton is literally an elephant with a trunk and floppy ears. Instead, it is set in a kindergarten where the focus is on the idea of “imagination”, with all props being bits and pieces that a child might find around the house.
Theatre People were fortunate enough to gain an insider’s perspective to this production of Suessical from the M.D. Daniel Donovan and the Choreographer Kelsey Andrew.
Theatre People: How does the music capture the themes presented?
Daniel Donovan: Seussical's themes of childhood imagination, kindness and self-acceptance traverse all age groups through the show's rich and diverse musical score. Most of the show is either sung or is spoken over music with very little standalone dialogue. As a result, Lynn Ahrens (Lyricist) and Stephen Flaherty (Composer) have created a score which suitably juxtaposes the wide spectrum of emotions the audience are made to feel. This is primarily achieved through the show's use of varied musical genres, from upbeat Latin pieces such as "Amazing Mayzie" to beautiful slow ballads such as "Alone in the Universe". The melodies are catchy and you find yourself tapping your feet without even noticing. The abundance of percussion sounds throughout the show aptly captures the quirky nature of the characters.
TP: How have you tried to capture the essence of the production through movement?
Kelsey Andrew: The score is quite complex at times and the show goes from blues to swing within scenes so it’s been great fun to choreograph as I’ve so many different genres to play with. Simplicity has been key to this production, making it visually appealing with less complicated steps and movements. In saying that however, there are a few dances that I’ve gone ‘all out’ and really thrown it all at the cast. The essence of ‘Seuss’ is based on character and story-telling, allowing the audience to connect with all the characters and come away feeling as though they have been so involved with the world of ‘Seuss’. We’ve pushed the cast to make bold choices and I have really tried to make the movement represent these ideas.
TP: Seussical is a difficult score musically – how have you gone about expressing your interpretation of the composers’ intentions? How have the “players” coped with the complexity of the score?
DD: My first reaction to the score was one of pure enjoyment and an appreciation of its wonderful complex orchestration. I believe what Lynn Ahrens (Lyricist) and Stephen Flaherty (Composer) were trying to achieve was an experience for the audience where they were able to not only connect with the characters' stories, but also the overall message from their stories. Both the music and lyrics assist the audience in their understanding of the underlying messages of the show. This meant a significant amount of time was spent working with the cast on the show's rich harmonies and using the theme of each song to guide their interpretation and ultimate portrayal of each number. I am ecstatic with the result achieved by the cast and I can't help smile when I hear their voices unite. We also have a sensational orchestra for this year's production who have admirably dealt with the complexity of the score, through its wide variety of genres, time changes and key changes. Several of the orchestra members have extended themselves to cover multiple parts. Although this orchestra has fewer members than the original score, the ten players involved create a truly magnificent sound together.
TP: Have there been any challenges in preparing and staging this production?
KA: The biggest challenge for me has been the lack of mirrors (haha)! Being a full time dancer, I’m used to being able to rely on mirrors to both learn and teach. However, the windows at Carey Metcalf hall have proved to be a semi decent understudy, and the cast have still been able to learn and achieve so much! But other than that, the prod/creative team have really pulled together to make this as simple and seamless as possible.
TP: Seussical can be a physically demanding production – how have your original ideas translated to the cast and influenced the final outcome of the production?
KA: From week one I had the cast (much to their disgust) doing push ups and planks every rehearsal, getting them ready for the demanding numbers throughout the show (one of the dances even has push ups in it!). I’m lucky that we have a very talented cast who have been willing to try so many of my crazy ideas – they have all pushed themselves to be able to cope with both singing, dancing and remembering the words to such tongue tying songs (Green Eggs and Ham). I have worked them all pretty hard but I have hardly had to change any of my original ideas. I am so proud of the cast and happy with the outcome!
TP: What is your favourite moment/song of the production?
DD: My favourite moment of the show is the ending to "It's Possible". The united sounds of the cast's rich harmonies are unforgettable.
KA: I think my favourite number has to be ‘Having a hunch’ – we approached it a little differently to other ‘Seuss’ productions. The cast were all totally on-board with my crazy ideas and choreography and backed me 100%. It took a little longer to put together but it was so worth it. Poor ‘JoJo’ gets thrown around a lot – he hardly touches the ground the whole time but it looks exactly as I imagined and it’s fun to watch!
TP: What do you hope the audience will take away from this production?
DD: I hope the audience gain a better understanding of the Dr Seuss books, or relive their childhood memories through the magical performances of the cast and orchestra of the production.
Seussical runs from September 20th – 28th at Featherstone Hall, Canterbury for eight performances including two “Meet and Greet” performances.