It was inspirational author Robert Fulghum, not Theodor Seuss Geisel, who coined the phrase, “All I needed to know I learned in kindergarten.” But the moral current that runs through Fulghum’s work is evident throughout “Seussical,” this year’s Secaucus High School musical.
A clever reworking of the familiar Dr. Seuss classics, “Seussical” combines several Geisel characters and creates a narrative story based on common themes in the children’s author’s books. The musical may be less familiar to parents than “Beauty and the Beast,” last year’s musical. Those familiar with the show, however, believe it offers an important message that will appeal to young and old alike.
“At first, I was disappointed when I heard this is what we were putting on,” admitted Margaret Jones, the show’s producer and a high school science teacher. “But I really didn’t know enough about it. The show encourages people to be more tolerant and less judgmental of other people. Now that I understand what the show is about, I really like it.”
“Seussical” is one of the most challenging shows the high school has performed.
There are 62 cast members, playing characters including Horton the Elephant, Gertrude McFuzz, the Sour Kangaroo, the Mayor of Whoville and his wife, General Genghis Khan Schmitz, and various Whos, birds, and other animals. The large cast presented Jones, who is also in charge of costuming, with a daunting task.
“This is a show you can dress up or dress down,” said Jones. “We’re dressing it up. Some [productions] go with minimal costumes for the animals, for instance. But we’re costuming the animals. Last year we lucked out. We found a school that had already done ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and we rented their costumes. That worked out well. This year we weren’t as lucky.”
So Jones had to call numerous theater companies, dig around online, and reach out to the community to clothe the cast. Yet two weeks before the show, Jones still wasn’t sure what Horton, one of the lead characters, would be wearing on opening night. Several costumes that had been ordered hadn’t arrived yet. And ostrich feathers needed to be sewn onto dresses for the birds.
The musical’s heavy reliance on songs has posed another challenge for the young cast. Unlike other musicals, “Seussical” has almost no spoken lines; each song leads into another.
“That can be more difficult for the students, because the show doesn’t rely on dialog between lead characters, with everyone else doing one or two songs,” said Assistant Director Maleesa Lamatina. “Most songs involve the ensemble, so there’s more for them to memorize.”
Lamatina added that this production is also unique in that it includes a sizeable number of middle school students, who are less familiar with the protocols of theater and find it hard to control their energy.
At a rehearsal last weekend director, Jody Jaron had a tough time keeping the cast focused. But she said the annual high school production offers valuable training for students, especially those with an interest in theater.
“I see these shows as a feeder program. If you get the younger kids used to professional-level training, they come back the next year with a different perspective on what it takes to audition and perform well,” said Jaron, director of the Garden State Ballet and summer stock theater.
“We offer quality experience and set the bar high for the older students so they’re ready to major in theater or audition for summer stock, because high school theater is a feeder for that, too,” added Jaron, who has directed 12 Secaucus shows.
150 kids auditioned
With the addition of the Couch Performing Arts Center in 2005, the high school theater program is slowly coming of age. Almost 150 students auditioned for “Seussical,” the largest turn-out the school has ever had for a performance, and there was a lot of completion for parts.
“There was a time [in the past] when any boy who auditioned was chosen because we needed every boy we could get,” Jones remembered. “Now that more boys audition, we can be more selective about whom we cast.”
As a result, productions have improved each year.
Jaron predicts “Seussical” will be every bit as enjoyable as other recent shows.
“It is its own show with its own merits,” she commented. “There are people who think they’re above Seuss. But I hope they give the show a chance. If they do, they’ll be blown away.”
“Seussical” will be performed at the Arthur F. Couch Performing Arts Center on Friday, April 3 and Saturday April 4 at 8 p.m. and on Sunday, April 5 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $12.00 and can be purchased by calling the high school at (201) 974-2031. Reach E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.