The Herald Times: Whimsical ‘Seussical’ merrily musical

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Valeri Grimes holds her three year old daughter Annabelle Grimes on her lap as the Cat in the Hat performs during the Indiana Festival Theater presentation of songs from Seussical the Musical at the Monroe County Library to promote its upcoming production of the play at Indiana University in Bloomignton, IN., Wednesday, July 22, 2015. The event was just one of the outreach events planned to engage the community in theater. Chris Howell | Herald-Times

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The Indiana Festival Theater presentation of songs from Seussical the Musical at the Monroe County Library to promote its upcoming production of the play at Indiana University, Wednesday, July 22, 2015. The event was just one of the outreach events planned to engage the community in theater. Chris Howell | Herald-Times

It was hard to tell who was more excited when the cast of “Seussical the Musical” hit the stage at the Monroe County Public Library.For the past two weeks, the cast has been working on their lines, choreography and songs, and Wednesday night, they were able to showcase some of their hard work.

With the smaller stage, the full choreography wasn’t possible, but that didn’t stop the IU students from grooving and moving as much as the space allowed. There were no costumes to make Horton look like an elephant or Mayzie look like a bird, but it didn’t matter.

“Kids don’t need flashy costumes,” said Jason Craig West, who plays the Cat in the Hat.

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Courtney Reid Harris, right, plays Mayzie and performed during the Indiana Festival Theater presentation of songs from Seussical the Musical at the Monroe County Library. Chris Howell | Herald-Times

The simple staging doesn’t seem to be a challenge for the actors. Courtney Reid Harris, who plays Mayzie, was prepared to be a bird for this show.

“We have to really rely upon the work we’ve done on our character,” she said.

The library is often a place where local music and theater organizations will perform to not only get the word out about their shows, but to contribute arts to the local community.

With Indiana Festival Theatre, the partnership with the library started in 2012, when the summer season included a children’s show for the first time. “The True Story of the Three Little Pigs” was a natural fit at the library, said Drew Bratton, arts administrator for IU’s department of theatre and drama and managing director for Indiana Festival Theatre.

Most outreach events will use just a few cast members, but the library shows are slightly bigger, according to Bratton.

“Seussical the Musical” is narrated by the Cat in the Hat and takes characters from a variety of Dr. Seuss books, so most of them were on hand for Wednesday’s performance.

Stephanie Holman, community engagement librarian at the Ellettsville branch, said the library is visited throughout the year by arts organizations eager to reach out to the local community. With “Seussical,” even if families aren’t familiar with the musical, they know the books.

“That is why I believe our registration for both these events are full. They filled up right away, without any promotion,” she said.

Library patrons have had opportunities to learn more about live productions through the many organizations in Bloomington. Previously, the library has hosted events organized by Cardinal Stage Company, Indiana Youth Musicians, Musical Arts Youth Organization, Roundabout Opera for Kids, Stages Bloomington and University Players.

Because of these productions, the library has a First Theater Experiences webpage that helps prepare kids for live theater, music and dance. The webpage also offers a handout on “What to Expect When You See a Play,” a simple one-page document that explains what kids might see. It also introduces vocabulary words such as scenery, props and matinee. The handout also explains how lighting helps direct attention and that the end of a performance is a curtain call.

Holman said the idea behind the webpage is to explain why live performances are important and what benefits they offer.

“They’re stunned by the presence of 3-D live action, and they’re just agog, literally. Their little chins are down with the intensity and joy that is being conveyed by whoever performs,” Holman said.

Holman said most librarians like to perform, although they typically do it in a different setting.

“Most of the children’s librarians are storytellers, and we’re bringing books to life all the time,” she said.

Wednesday’s performance was a mix of song and education. After singing one song, each actor held up an artist’s rendering of their costume. The actors introduced themselves and told the audience what role he or she was playing.

A few of the actors got a chance to sing songs about their characters before West told the audience a little about the story.

Before singing a final number, the cast sat on the stage and took questions from the audience. The first question: Do you ever get nervous? The answer is a resounding yes, but Kaitlyn Louise Smith, who plays Mrs. Mayor, explains that she has a routine to prepare herself that helps with the nerves.

Soon the questions are rolling in, from kids curious about when these young actors got their start in theater to one boy who likes the Wickersham Brothers because he himself is mischievous.

And the performance of “Seussical” comes at a good time. There has been hype over the upcoming Tuesday release of “What Pet Should I Get?”

Theodor Seuss Geisel wrote more than 40 children’s books, and it has been 25 years since Dr. Seuss published his last original book. Audrey Geisel found the manuscript and illustrations for “What Pet Should I Get?” after her husband’s death in 1991. The work was rediscovered in 2013, and the decision was made to publish the book.

Armed with this information, Bratton reached out to the local Barnes and Noble bookstore to see if they had any plans for celebrate the release, and he was able to schedule West to participate in the store’s weekly storytime event. West will bring along the signature cat hat for the event.

Bratton said these community events give the student actors a chance to interact with kids in the community who may not have much experience with live theater. As a former performer, Bratton said he remembers having those experiences and wants IU’s students to share in that.

Kids don’t have much of a filter, so it is easy for them to express their feelings about the show.

“The energy that you get back from them is just a wonderful feeling,” said Christian Fary, who plays Horton the elephant.

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Samantha Mason, who plays Gertrude, performed during the Indiana Festival Theater presentation. Chris Howell | Herald-Times

“If there is a mean character, they will tell you,” said Samantha Lee Mason, who plays Gertrude McFuzz.

Mary Beth Black, who plays Sour Kangaroo, seemed touched when an audience member asked how she got such a gorgeous voice. Prior to the show, Black admitted the role was a great challenge vocally, but she loved the chance to expand her range while having fun with the role.

“I love how sassy she is,” Black said.

For Andrew Minkin, who plays Jo Jo, the play gives him a chance to be a kid again — a welcome change from the adult life he must lead as a college student.

“It allows me to use my imagination,” Minkin said.

Members of the cast will perform again Friday at the Ellettsville branch of the library before the show opens next week. And while they look forward to hitting the stage at IU, the experience of performing in such a small venue for such a small, receptive audience was rewarding. And that’s exactly what Bratton hopes will happen.

“It’s so gratifying, and it’s not an experience you get often. Children are very genuine, and for (the actors) to be able to experience that unfiltered reaction to performances we think is beneficial for them and encouraging them to continue to do that in their careers,” Bratton said.

More information

To read more about introducing children to live theater, check out http://mcpl.info/childrens/first-theater-experiences. The link provides information a link to the handout “What to Expect When You See a Play” as well as a list of upcoming performances scheduled at the Monroe County Public Library.

If you go

WHAT: Wednesday Storytime. Actor Jason Craig West will read Dr. Seuss books.

WHEN: 11 a.m. Wednesday.

WHERE: Barnes and Noble, 2813 E. Third St.

MORE: The event is geared to preschoolers, but everyone is invited.

If you go

WHAT: “Seussical the Musical.”

WHEN: 7 p.m. July 31, Aug. 1, 4-8, 14-15; 2 p.m. Aug. 1-2, 8-9, 15-16.

WHERE: Wells-Metz Theatre, 275 N. Jordan Ave.

MORE: Tickets are $12-$25. Purchase tickets online at theatre.indiana.edu or call 800-745-3000.

Reprinted with permission from The Herald Times. Click here for the original article.

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About IU Theatre Department

Welcome to the 7th & Jordan blog. This blog is a peak behind the curtain at the Indiana University Theatre Department productions and student work.
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