Say Who! Seussical the Musical comes to local school
by Jessica Rosero Reporter staff writer
Mar 05, 2006 | 446 views | 0 0 comments | 0 0 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Dr. Seuss' beloved characters sprang to life years ago in the whimsical theatrical production of Seussical the Musical, and now the play that took Broadway by storm has come to the Woodrow Wilson School in a collaboration with the Union City Park Players.

So follow along on a journey with the Cat in the Hat and shake hands with a Who, but don't forget to watch out for Thing 1 and Thing 2.

Based on the works of Dr. Seuss, Suessical the Musical incorporates elements from at least 15 of his books, from the Grinch that Stole Christmas to Green Eggs and Ham.

"It's a collaboration of the Dr. Seuss books, and it's about respecting differences, friendship, family, and being creative," said Joe Conklin, director.

The production comes just in time for Read Across America, which begins on March 2 in celebration of Dr. Seuss' birthday. Seussical the Musical will be running March 9 through 12.

The magic of Seuss

Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Aherns, who also provided the music and lyrics for the production, first created Seussical the Musical in 1998.

Throughout the story, the audience follows little JoJo, whose imagination is as big as Horton the Elephant. "JoJo is a small boy with [a big] imagination, who likes to go his own way and doesn't care what anyone else thinks," said Joshua Daniel Santora, 12, who plays JoJo.

For Joshua, who is also a seventh grade student at Woodrow Wilson School, this will be his first lead role in a stage production.

"I've worked with Mr. Conklin on many other school [events], but this was my first audition for a play, and apparently I'm good enough to get JoJo," said Joshua.

JoJo brings out the likes of the Cat in the Hat and the Sour Kangaroos, who will be giving Diana Ross a run for her money.

"I have three girls for the Sour Kangaroos who will be acting like the Supremes," said Conklin.

Professional actor Michelle Rivers, a veteran of children's theatre, will play the part of the Cat in Hat.

"I wanted to be a part of it because I love Seussical the Musical, and I heard about [the auditions] just before I was going to do a Christmas show in Hershey, Pennsylvania," said Rivers, 28. "The experience [with the Park Players] has been a lot of fun and energetic. I love kids."

The Union City Park Players theatre group, who is dedicated to bringing quality affordable theatre to the community, puts on three to four major performances every season.

"We decided to do it because we like to do shows, which would be enjoyed by children as well as adults," said Conklin. "And having seen the show, I was very moved by it and hoped that one day I would direct it."

Conklin got his wish, and in addition to directing Seussical, he will also be playing the part of Horton the Elephant.

Let's put on a show

Woodrow Wilson School emphasizes an arts-integrated curriculum. Through the school's Multiple Intelligence Arts Domain (MIAD) programs, the Park Players theatre group was able to enlist the help of Woodrow Wilson students in a number of different capacities, from helping with stage lighting and equipment to building props. Some students are also actors in the play, but went through the audition process along with their professional counterparts back in December.

"It's a great learning experience for the students with the professional actors, who have all been very gracious in helping one another," said Conklin.

"What I enjoy the most is teaching about being creative and open-minded, and that there are no limits to using the imagination," said Rivers.

For some of these students, Suessical may be their very first steps to Broadway.

"I want to get noticed as a dancer because when I dance on stage I don't care about anything else; it's my spotlight, it's just me," said Emmanuel Crespo, 14, who plays Dankoff the monkey.

Of course, it's not just the students getting into the creative spirit of Suessical. Teachers have signed on to help such as Maria Valente, who is assisting with choreography, and Principal Ronald Treanor, who is one of the producers.

"Former students are also choreographing numbers, retired teachers are helping, and [the sets are being constructed] with the help of Andy Eller, who did our sets for Meshugganuns."

Additional set pieces were purchased from the Theatre in the Park Theatre Group.

Parents are also serving in different capacities such as stage managers, as well as actors.

"My two children attend Woodrow Wilson, and I originally wanted to be more involved helping behind the scenes," said Marisol Meljen, who plays a Who. "I auditioned and I got the part, but what I like most is being an active participant in my kids lives."

Suessical the Musical is the biggest productions the Park Players have tackled since their production of the Wizard of Oz, which was also put together in collaboration with Woodrow Wilson School.

"We have taken it a step at a time because we're utilizing professional actors as well as students; it's a big community effort," said Conklin.

Admission for Suessical the Musical will be $8 for adults and $5 for students, and will be presented at Woodrow Wilson School, 80 Hauxhurst Ave., Weehawken. For tickets call (201) 941-6030.
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