Youth revel in whimsy-inspired Seuss

By Patricia Minichiello
Staff Writer

In this show there’s a cat, there’s a hat and some birds. 

There are songs that are sung and some spoken words.

Oh, and there’s dancing! There’s dancing in this act.

Fifty-six pairs of dancing feet, to be exact.

That’s correct. 

When the Rutland Youth Theatre presents “Seussical Jr.” this weekend at the Paramount Theatre, 56 kids, from small to tall, will take the stage.

“We had just about 100 kids try out,” said Mikki Lane, stage manager for the show. “We tried to be as generous as we could with parts. We wanted to make sure that as many kids as possible could be cast.”

The musical centers around Horton, a talking elephant whose adventures take him through The Jungle of Nool and the Circus McGurkus while trying to protect life on a speck of dust in Who-ville. 

The show’s cast features some of Dr. Seuss’ most famous storybook characters including the Cat in The Hat, Thing One and Thing Two and even the Grinch makes a cameo appearance.

With so many different cast members – from Whos to Wickershams – how does one keep track? Wrangle up? Sort out – who’s playing who, who needs to be where, when? 

“That’s pretty much my job,” said Lane. “I’m in charge of making sure people show up to rehearsals when they need to be there.” 

Saskia Hagen Groom, RYT’s executive producer is in Holland this year, leaving all the details of the organization’s latest production to Lane and several Castleton State College students. 

Meghan Hakey, a student at the college is directing the musical, while Justin Gardner, also an undergraduate, is choreographing. Loren Sylvester, a graduate student in the musical education department, is the show’s musical director. 

“At first I was like 60 kids is going to be a little rough, but they’ve all been great. They are pretty astute and professional,” Sylvester said during rehearsal Saturday afternoon.

It was during a rehearsal where the cast performed its opening number, which began softly with one or two voices, then and started to build gradually, until the ensemble erupted in a powerful, “Seuss!” Cast members stomped to the beat and opened arms wide in the air, filling the back room at what is the new Rutland Recreation building — the old Courcelle building — with energy and life. 

The show itself is quite a commitment. Cast members in the core group have rehearsed 11 hours a week for the past six weeks and ensemble members have rehearsed six hours a week since March.

With an incredible amount of singing and harmonizing throughout the show, Sylvester is tasked with a big job – getting each cast member to sing on key and in character. He said he has seen great growth in just the short six weeks since rehearsals began.

“Each time we run something, they learn a little more, grow a little more.” 

Youth in the cast are thrilled to be in the show, despite all the work it entails. 

Val Giesey, an 11 year old from Shrewsbury, plays JoJo. He said he went to auditions thinking he might get a part in the ensemble, but instead landed a main role. 

“I didn’t really know what ‘Seussical’ was, but I thought it would be cool. So, I downloaded the soundtrack and started listening. I actually wanted to be a Wickersham but … (big grin).” Val said he does get nervous before performing, but he just gets out there and does it.

Perhaps the shyest of the bunch, is 5-year-old Cassie Smith who plays a surprise character. 

“I’ve never been in the show before and I thought it would be fun.” 

Cassie said she was psyched because she was finally old enough to try out for a RYT production. Her favorite part of the show? “All the parts that I’m in.” 

Another cast member, Olivia Renaud, a 16 year old from Chittenden who plays Guetrude McFuzz, said this is her 12th show and she is very comfortable performing.

“I don’t really get nervous anymore.”

The show itself, she said, is a great story, packed with whimsy and surprises. 

“It’s fun and colorful for all ages.” And Olivia added, “There’s lots of feathers.” 

Skyler Ambrose, 15, a student at Mill River Union High School, plays a bird girl, whose costume includes many of those features. She has been performing since she can remember and has been in nearly 40 shows. She said being in theater is kind of like being on a roller coaster. 

“Your excited, you’re going up and up as the rehearsals get closer … you’re all the way at the top on opening night and then you go down – it’s a rush. It’s the greatest feeling ever.” 

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Paramount Theatre

Rutland Youth Theatre will perform “Seussical Jr.” at 7 p.m. Friday, May 9, and at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, May 10, at the Paramount Theatre, 30 Center St. in Rutland. Tickets are $8 for children and seniors, $10 for adults; call 802-775-0903, or go online to 

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