The popularity of Seussical the Musical underscores how Dr. Seuss and his amazing collection of books have become the cornerstone of children’s literature. The Broadway production of the musical opened in November 2000 and ran for less than six months, but it has found immense popularity in school and community performances.
The University of Saint Francis is staging the colorful musical at their Performing Arts Center this month. Brad and Leslie Beauchamp are partnering to bring the story to life, with Brad serving as director and Leslie as assistant director and choreographer.
It’s fitting that they are working together since this production is a family affair in many ways.
“This isn’t just a kid-friendly show,” Brad said. “It’s very family friendly, and there are actually a lot of families who are performing together in it. Our musical director is Ben Wedler, and his wife Leah and their two kids are in it. Jen Poiry and her daughter Sarrazine are in it. Our daughter is in the show as well as our son-in-law.”
“A lot of the parents who perform have children,” Leslie said. “There just aren’t a lot of opportunities for them to share a stage together.”
“One of the reasons we decided on this show was so some of our families in the theater community could perform together,” Brad added.
There were many other reasons, of course, and Brad said the tone and spirit of the show seemed a good choice for several reasons.
“I think we really need something like this right now,” he said. “There’s so much political angst and upheaval everywhere, and this show is the antithesis of all of that. A lot of theater and art in general are the antithesis of that, and it’s something you can take the whole family to.”
With many favorite Seuss characters featured (and still others referenced along the way), and the town of Whoville prominently featured, the cast includes more than 40 actors of a wide range of ages, preschool through college and up. The youngest, Henry Wedler, is only five.
“You do not want to share the stage with Henry Wedler,” Brad said. “He is so good. All the kids are really great in this show.”
“All four of the Wee Whos are delightful,” Leslie agreed. “The whole cast is great, from the Wee Whos to the Wickersham Brothers who will try about anything. They just throw themselves around on the set, and it becomes infectious. Everyone around them has to step up their game.”
Seussical the Musical is not just a great piece of community theater. It’s a university production, and that means bringing in multiple aspects of the campus and student community to help create the look of the production, something vital to any telling of a Seuss story. The joint effort provides the show with what it needs while providing students valuable experience.
“When you open up a Dr. Seuss book, the colors and the art are such a big part of it,” Brad said. “That’s what we want you to see on stage. We want to replicate those colors on the set and in the costumes. That’s challenging, but it’s going to be neat for the audience to see.”
“The set alone is amazing,” said Leslie. “It’s been so great working with the Saint Francis School of the Creative Arts, and we’re blessed to have so many amazing artists contributing to the show. It’s like a Seussian wonderland, and they’ve used a lot of interesting products to create the look on the set.”
Students have also provided video and animation sequences which will complement what fills the stage. Even the retired dean of the School of Creative Arts, Rick Cartwright, pitched in making the clover, using skills he acquired as a kid helping to make floats for May Day celebrations.
Lending more USF power to the production is a supportive alum with a special connection to the world of Dr. Seuss.
“Toni Murray is the sponsor for the show,” Brad said. “She has played the Cat in the Hat for years in elementary schools. She has so much knowledge about all of the books he’s written so that fount of knowledge has been helpful when she comes to rehearsals.”
The Beauchamps are quick to credit those who created the village of Whoville, and they look forward to sharing it with audiences.
“When the cast appears on stage, it’s jaw-dropping,” Brad said. “Young and old will be smiling from the beginning to the end of the show. We’re throwing everything at them – animation, lights, haze, fog. It’s a huge technical achievement and has been very collaborative.
“We would visualize what we wanted and toss around some different ideas. Then we’d throw them against the wall to see what would stick. It’s just such a fun show.”
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