Hammond Theatre’s production of Seussical is happening on March 7th, 8th, and 9th. The Bear Press sat down with Ms. Tobiason, Hammond’s Drama teacher and director of the musical, to talk about the development and creation of the world of Seuss!
How did you choose Seussical as Hammond’s musical production for this year?
We’ve never done Seussical before, and it’s very different from Thoroughly Modern Millie [last year’s show]. [Seussical] is almost entirely sung-through, and it’s obviously set in a very non-realistic place. I like to try to give kids different opportunities, so we went from jazz to a lot of modern music. It seemed like fun, and we have a lot of improvisational actors, so it was really drawing on the talents of those actors. I sometimes pick things according to the talent that we have.
How did actors approach learning how to get into the world of Seuss?
I hoped that they went to some of the Dr. Seuss books so that they could learn more about their characters. It’s really cool to have different source material than just the script. I encouraged them to make some creative choices about the backstory of their characters and really flesh them out but, because we had so many snow days, we didn’t have as much time for experimentation in rehearsals. That sucks because, usually, sometime in the last two weeks, we can make things really goofy or do different genre styles (perform it in a soap opera, perform it in an opera, or whatever). I think that the snow days also gave them more of an opportunity to make their own choices because I know that they’ve been forced to do more thinking and working on their own. We have really smart actors, so I empowered them to make their own choices and, because we have such strong people, I feel like it’s worked out well. It’s just hard because I’m not there to give direction every step of the way because of the time crunch.
I know that you probably don’t want to play favorites with characters, but what’s your favorite sequence or song in the musical?
I’ll play favorites with characters. I think the Cat in the Hat is awesome. That’s partly Jair [Roberson, the actor portraying Cat] and partly the part because it’s very cool to have a narrator who connects with the audience so much. He plays so many different roles within that. I’m not saying he’s the best, but I’m saying that it’s very entertaining – both the way it’s written and performed. I like watching Gertrude [McFuzz, portrayed by Brigid Mangan] struggle to get Horton’s [portrayed by Jack Buzard] attention because there’s a little bit of Gertrude in everyone. Watching that is really enjoyable.
How do you think the scenic design contributes to Seussical?
We definitely thought through our color choices, trying to go with color choices that we saw in the books. We picked the four main colors – green, orange, blue yellow – and tried to use them well. We also designated between the Whoville side and the Jungle side. We did that also with shapes, where Whoville is much more rounded and the Jungle has more rough edges. It’s a really open-concept show and, actually, the playwrights say you should keep the show really simple. Simple is better, so I didn’t really want to have literal set pieces. I just wanted to suggest different places and feelings of those places.
What do you want the audience to leave with once they’ve seen the show?
I want them to be smiling, singing, and realize that theatre is fun. Even something as ridiculous as watching an elephant hold a clover and a bird with one feather fall in love with him can teach us something about who are…that we need to fight for what we believe in or accept ourselves as the person that we are. I think that Dr. Seuss is one of the most brilliant writers because he was able to appeal to very young audiences and then make statements that can impact adults as well. I’m hoping that the show is entertaining for youngsters as well as older people.