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Seussing it up

The serious young performers were focused on synchronized and animated movements while singing lively lyrics during rehearsals.

Despite the intensity of their concentration, it was evident that these 43 children, ages 7-17, were having tons of “Horton the Elephant” size fun while rehearsing “Seussical, Jr,” during a four-week summer camp at Golden Chain Theatre.

“Seussical,” a musical based on the books of Dr. Seuss, debuted on Broadway in 2000, leading to two U.S. National Tours. It has since become a favorite of community and regional theaters, and will be performed this Saturday and Sunday at GCT.

GCT’s artistic director Jennifer Piccolotti said she chose “Seussical” as the summer workshop show because “it’s a perfect family musical and that is an audience we want to serve. Plus, this story is a beautiful one of believing in one’s self and each other. It features characters that put others’ needs before their own, and the songs will stick with you forever.”

The story begins with a small boy discovering an oddly-shaped red-and-white striped hat. He imagines who it could belong to, finally conjuring up the Cat in the Hat, who creates the Seussian world around him and the boy - “Oh, the Thinks You Can Think.” The cat acts as the narrator for the remainder of the musical, which includes a message on anti-bullying.

“Horton the Elephant discovers Whos living on a clover, but no one believes him,” Piccolotti explained. “He’s picked on and laughed at. Gertrude, a bird, who has low self-esteem herself, is in love with Horton. Everyone makes fun of her, too, because ... a bird romantically involved with an elephant sounds crazy.”

Producing a 90-minute musical with two separate casts in four weeks is a monumental task. Piccolotti assigned each cast to two lead directors - Heather Sconce and Michael Van Buren. Sconce also choreographed the numbers.

“It has taken an amazing team of more than 10 volunteers working with these kids four hours a day to get such amazing results,” Piccolotti proudly added.

“This is going to be unlike anything this mountain community has ever seen from these kids,” Sconce said. “It’s exciting, it’s fun, and everyone will leave with a smile on their faces.”

Josten Barber has performed in musicals before in his home town of Santa Cruz. The 13-year-old, visiting his grandmother in Oakhurst for the summer, plays the Cat in the Hat.

“This is really fun,” Barber said. “People who see this show will be talking about it afterwards, so if you miss it, you’ll really miss out on a great experience.”

Oak Creek Intermediate student Angie Sampson, 13, plays Sour Kangaroo, a sassy, big, brash, and soulful creature. Piccolotti calls her the “Aretha Franklin of Seussical,” adding that while Sampson is pretty quiet, get her on a stage and she comes alive.

Even though she has performed in church productions directed by Sconce, this is Sampson’s first time as a lead in a big musical. She admits to being a little nervous, with a twinge of worry over her voice cracking during the “real” thing. Still, she’s having the time of her life.

“It’s not only fun,” Sampson said, “but it’s also a chance to make new friends and to be around good people.”

Makenzie Sconce, 8, plays Jojo, a member of the Who community.

“He’s the son of the mayor, and he likes to think, but he always seems to get into trouble when he does.”

Makenzie has been onstage since she was two, before she even knew what butterflies in a nervous stomach were. The Wasuma third-grader said she loves being on stage because of the chance to act and play different characters before an audience.

This is the first year in several that Alli Ruiz, 16, a Yosemite High upcoming junior, has remained home during the summer months. Playing Mayzie La Bird in Seussical, Jr., she began performing on the GCT stage as a preschooler. Her grandmother, mother and aunt all performed in the theater before her.

“When I was 3, I did Christmas plays and summer plays, but never any musicals,” Ruiz said. “When I got older, I took a three-to-four year break because I wanted to expand into different areas. This is Oakhurst and there just weren’t many opportunities here, so I would spend summers in Santa Cruz to perform in musicals. When Jen and James (Mierkey) came in, they introduced the area to new plays and new experiences. GCT is known everywhere now ... and I never knew what I was really capable of until now.”

“I think live theater is a dying art, so many kids in this generation are missing out on being able to have fun without plugging something into a wall socket.” Piccolotti said. “It’s so much fun to watch these kids. The audience will be able to see them grow up and blossom on stage over the years. They’ll be able to spot the children who have theater in their blood, the kids who will have theater, in some fashion, in their lives forever.”

While there was an initial cap at 30 children, Piccolotti and her team had to rethink summer camp because of all the sign-ups.

“There was just too much talent, with everyone deserving to be noticed, so by having two casts we created two of every part, and these kids are knocking it out of the park,” Piccolotti continued. “When people hear about this show, I hope they don’t say ‘oh, it’s for kids,’ because it really isn’t. It’s a great story with great music, and will entertain ‘kids’ of all ages.”

One of Piccolotti’s favorite lines in the show comes from Seuss’s Horton Hears a Who - “A person’s a person, no matter how small.”

“The sentiment can have meaning for actors who might believe their role is small or unimportant to a production,” Piccolotti said, “proving that everyone makes a difference.”

“Seussical also brings a message of not being afraid to think the impossible,” added GCT musical director James Mierkey.

“Seussical, Jr.,” will run 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., July 9 and 10. Because the cast has been split into two, cast one “Thing One” will perform 2 p.m., July 9 and 7 p.m., July 10, while cast two “Thing Two” will perform 7 p.m., July 9, and 2 p.m., July 10.

Tickets, at $10 each, are going fast. To purchase tickets, www.goldenchaintheatre.org, or (559) 683-7112.

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