Friday, March 16, 2007
Seussical celebrates a beloved children's author and his books
Seussical is a musical similar to Cats, in that it is loosely constructed around fictional characters, short on plot, extremely lively, and much of it is sung rather than spoken. Also, the main character, who serves as a sort of narrator, is a cat. And that is that, which is to say, there the similarity ends.
That feline in question is, of course, Dr. Seuss's famous Cat in the Hat, who celebrates his 50th birthday this year, along with his creator's 100th. Played by the dynamic and comedic Bobby Davin, the Cat in the Hat is the sardonic and goofy glue that binds a cast of 96 characters together in the Carlisle seventh-grade production of Seussical.
Denney has been a music teacher for ten years and currently teaches in Newton. She is no stranger to student musical productions, and believes that it is important to introduce kids to full-length shows instead of junior versions and do whatever cutting is needed herself, in order to adapt each show to the group performing it. Seussical is such a show, and although Denney has made certain cuts to adapt it to the talents of Carlisle's seventh graders and make it age-appropriate, she has also expanded many of the original roles. The script calls for three "Bird Girls," for example, but the Carlisle production has 22, making a very full choral sound and displaying remarkable dance talent. She has also added a 15-student ensemble of "Jungle Creatures" to the script's "Citizens of the Jungle," which allows circus performers, fish, and other colorful Seuss animal creations to execute some of the musical numbers.
In addition, Denney has transposed some of the music into keys better suited to voices that are developing and changing, and has taught some of the performers the famous "Rex Harrison" technique of "speak-singing" to cover the limits of vocal range natural to this age group.
Moreover, the pace of the show reflects that of the Seuss books: breakneck and breathless. This is perhaps the most energetic production ever attempted here in Carlisle.
From rehearsal to "Curtain!"
What audience members do not often realize is the enormous amount of work that has, over the last two months, brought the show to its finished product. Inexperienced actors and crews have to learn to deal with lights, sets, costumes and props that may impede movement or speech. Endless repetition of actions and lines to get crisp unison and intonation, the patience required to sit or stand through the rehearsal of other characters' work while still being "on," learning to act as a unit or team, learning to think on one's feet, trying over and over to "get it right:" all these are necessary to the success of the project, and they require unflagging enthusiasm and commitment. The Carlisle seventh graders may have come home from rehearsals fatigued, but their enthusiasm and commitment never waned.
Denney asserts that those qualities have carried the show to its present success, and that the kids have been supported by the equal dedication of the parents and community. Parents, she says, "have been more than willing to do all those things I don't want to do or can't do myself." That has included chaperoning, making and managing the riotously colorful costumes, building sets (including Jic Davis's outrageous nest for Horton the Elephant and his egg), and assisting with choreography, lighting, sound, make-up, stage and house management and a myriad of other tasks. Many of these parents have a new appreciation for the effort it takes to bring off a production like Seussical, and as Denney says, probably the biggest challenge for all the adults is "96 kids."
These 96 kids and their squad of adult sustainers have managed to put together a sparkling, whizzing Seussical. You can still see it tonight at 7:30 in Corey Auditorium. Tickets, at $8, are available at Ferns and from any seventh-grade student.
Photos by Ellen Huber
© 2007 The Carlisle Mosquito