JoJo sees the curious hat and starts thinking.
He thinks about where it came from, who might wear it, but most of all, its possibilities.
Possibility is where imagination has no limit, but it also can mean trouble. At least, for JoJo.
Because others want to put limits on his imagination. They want to chop it into something conventional, and, well, boring.
And life for JoJo is anything but boring, especially when he meets the cat.
For the cat is the owner of the curious hat, and the cat is eager to guide JoJo into the land of Seussical, where not only are there possibilities but where anything is possible.
“That’s the reason we decided to do this show,” Todd Henry says.
He’s executive director of Playmakers of Baton Rouge, which is staging “Seussical Jr.” today at 2 p.m. and for three more performances Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 24-25 in the Reilly Theatre.
“The kids in our Young Professionals program are creative thinkers, which sometimes makes them feel different when they’re among other kids. But they know when they can come here and be among other kids like them. And the message of this play is about imagination and not being afraid to be creative.”
Because life is too short to spend it trying to be like everyone else. And the cat definitely isn’t like anyone JoJo has ever met.
The cat, of course, is the Cat in the Hat, probably the best known character created by Dr. Suess, whose children’s books of rhymes and quirky characters serve as the basis for this musical.
The show was written as “Suessical the Musical” by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Haherty. Hanerty also wrote the music, and Ahrens the lyrics. The idea was co-conceived by Eric Idle.
Yes, that’s the same Eric Idle of “Monty Python” fame.
“Seussical the Musical” debuted Nov. 30, 2000, in Broadway’s Richard Rodgers Theatre.
“Seussical Jr.” was released by Music Theatre International as part of its junior Broadway collection for children’s casts. The junior version cuts a few songs and tightens the story for a more kid-friendly play.
Seuss books represented in the junior musical are “Horton Hears a Who!,” “ Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?,” “One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish,” “ The Cat in the Hat,” “ If I Ran the Circus,” “ McElligot’s Pool,” “Green Eggs and Ham,” “Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories,” “Horton Hatches the Egg,” “I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew” and “ Oh, the Thinks You Can Think!.”
And it’s the last book that serves as the opening number with the Cat in the Hat describing a world of possibilites to JoJo.
Now, those familiar with Seuss’ stories immediately will recognize JoJo as the son of the Mayor and first lady of Whoville. It’s JoJo who communicates with Horton, and it’s JoJo who gets in trouble for an overactive imagination.
Caroline Feduccia is playing JoJo. She’s an 11-year-old student at Sacred Heart of Jesus School and enters this role fresh off her role as the young Cosette in Theatre Baton Rouge’s summer musical, “Les Miserables.”
“I finished playing Cosette on a Sunday, and I started rehearsals as JoJlo that Monday,” Feduccia says.
She’s joined in the Reilly Theatre’s green room by Anna Deshotels and Christopher Fields.
Deshotels, 15, is a Playmakers veteran. She’s a student at St. Joseph’s Academy and plays the Cat in the Hat in this production. Fields is a 15-year-old student at University Lab School. He’ll be Horton.
“And the costume for me is kind of big,” he says.
Which it notable, because though Fields is tall, he’s also thin. But it’s OK. He was hoping to land the role of Horton at the audition.
And Deshotels really didn’t have a role preference; she was just excited at the prospect of being a part of “Seussical.”
“But I was excited when they told me I would be the Cat in the Hat,” she said. “The cat is the ringleader in this play. He’s good for anything, and he’s big and exaggerated. And he’s goofy. He’s a lot of fun to play.”
Which is opposite of Horton, who is racked with anxiety. See, Horton is given task of preserving Whoville, which is located on a dust speck which rests atop a clover.
Confused? Don’t be. Go back and read “Horton Hears a Who” or just come to the play to learn how Horton tries to convince others that a world can exist on a dust speck.
And that “a person is a person, no matter how small.”
That’s the best-known quote from the story, which, like all of Suess’ stories, has a moral at the end. “Horton” also is Weston Twardowski’s favorite Seuss story.
Which is significant, considering he’s the director of this show.
“This is my first experience with playmakers,” Twardowski says.
But it’s not his first time working with children’s theater. Twardowski is from New Orleans and is a senior in the LSU Department of Theatre. He’s led children’s theater camps in the past, some with as many 100 participants.
And Anthony McMurray recommended him as director for this show.
See, McMurray is newly graduated from the LSU Department of Theatre’s master of fine arts program. He’s also Playmakers’ artistic director.
He and Twardowski worked together in several LSU and Swine Palace productions.
“But I had never seen ‘Seussical’ before directing this play,” Twardowski said. “I started listening to the music, and I knew it would be a great show. It’s been a lot of fun to direct, and working with the kids has been great.”
Children range from age 8 to 16 in this production.
“And we chose this because we knew it would be a musical that could be performed by children without taking anything away from the musical,” McMurray says. “And ‘Seussical Jr.’ is really better than ‘Seussical the Musical.’ There are really too many stories told in ‘Seussical the Musical,’ and ‘Seussical Jr.’ tells a better, family friendly story in an hour and a half.”
And joining the cat, JoJo and Horton will be Seuss’ Gertrude, Mazie, Sour Kangaroo, the Wickershams and the Bird Girls. Not to mention an ensemble that won’t hesitate that won’t hesitate to interact with the audience.
Because, really, ‘Seussical’ is as much about the audience as it is the characters. The world is filled with possibilities even for them.
All they have to do is follow JoJo to the curious hat — the one with the red and white stripes — in the opening number.
And let their imaginations soar.
Cast: Anna Deshotels, Cat in the Hat; Christopher Fields, Horton; Caroline Feduccia, Jojo; Jolie Gautreau, Gertrude; Emily Winter, Mazie; Vivian Brown, Sour Kangaroo; Finn Miller, Mr. Mayor; Elizabeth Winter, Mrs. Mayor; Wickershams: Brandon Persica, Landon Simpson, Jataiveus Jackson, Emery Gischler; Bird Girls: Becca Velasquez, Madison Roy, Noel Gautreau; Ensemble: Natalie Feduccia, Jordan Simoneaux, Virginia Moore, Charlie Roth, Laurel Bourg, Anna Katherine Harrel, Victoria Winter, Grant Dupre, Logan Burge.
Artistic staff: Weston Twardowski, director; Lisa Smith, music director; Maile Binion, stage manager; Morgan Bartholick, assistant director; Adam Waguespack, lighting designer; Wil Thomas, set designer; Elizabeth Cowan, set designer; Abbey Vitrano, costume designer; Devon Lamond, sound designer; Victoria Carbajal, choreographer.
Administration: Todd Henry, executive director; Anthony McMurray, artistic director; Danielle Adams, tour director