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“Suessical KIDS” brings together Global Arts Plus community

The Global Arts Plus (GAP) Upper after school theater program performed their own adaptation of the “Seussical KIDS” on February 1-2 for this year’s annual musical. Their production was filled to the absolute brim with colorful characters, vibrant sets and over fifteen amazingly performed musical numbers! I was astounded by what they could pull off in less than three months. 

Additionally, this was the first time that GAP middle school students could finally perform for the lower campus students since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. They’ve accomplished so much, and this article will cover much of what they’ve done in such a short time!

“Seussical KIDS” combines various Dr. Seuss tales, such as: “Horton Hears a Who,” “Gertrude Mcfuzz,” and “The Cat in the Hat” (kind of). Along with that, “Seussical” also cleverly sneaks in references to the likes of: “Yertle the Turtle,” “Green Eggs and Ham,” “Oh, the Places You’ll Go,” “I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew,” “Mcelligot’s Pool” and possibly others. “Yertle the Turtle” was referenced as a character; playing  the court’s judge during Horton’s trial, in contrast to the other Seuss stories that were referenced in/had their own musical numbers. 

The Cats (in the “Kids” casting, there’s a trio of Cats in Hats instead of just one, which works surprisingly well) are also interestingly integrated characters. Instead of having a narrative focus on their story, they act as energetic narrators of the others’ stories. They are fascinating narrators, because not only could they directly interact with the audience like asking us to join in with a chant, they also directly interacted with the characters! There is also some limit to what they can control in the story; this allows them to be so much more than bland narrators!

As for the story, we follow our three main characters: Horton the elephant, Gertrude Mcfuzz and JoJo, a character who originally had no relation to the mayor and now is his child in most adaptations, and was only present for around ten lines in the book. In this story, JoJo also acts as the Whoville mayor’s child in parallel to the movie (although the musical is a completely different characterization where Jo-Jo is significantly more sunny).

The first act follows Horton trying to protect the clover containing the dust-speck-sized Whovian planet and Jojo’s conflict with their parents about their excessive imagination that’s getting in the way of their schoolwork. Then around halfway through, we are properly introduced to Gertrude McFuzz, a bird who is insecure about her lack of plumage in comparison to her flamboyant neighbor Mayzie Labird. 

As Gertrude joins Horton in his attempt to protect the clover, the Cats use their narrator magic to enter the story and cheer up JoJo with a musical number about imagination. But after the Wickersham Brothers steal the clover, things get interesting, as Gertrude and Horton switch their original roles: Gertrude goes to save the clover and Horton ends up taking care of Mayzie’s egg. After fifty-one weeks sitting on the egg, Gertrude returns to Horton after successfully finding the lost clover, and Mayzie comes back to officially give Horton guardianship over her egg. But then, Sour Kangaroo and others bring Horton on trial in “The People Versus Horton the Elephant.” But just as all seems lost, Jojo gets their big moment and yells out a word nobody has heard before (“YOPP!”), proving that the Whos exist to the courtroom and saving the day. As everything is settling down, the egg hatches and it’s an elephant-bird!? (I’m not going to question how genetics work in the “Seussical” world, but it was probably because Horton incubated it.) In the end the entire cast comes together in celebration and they sing about green eggs and ham.

Plotwise, I do have a couple questions on how some of the storylines were resolved, such as Gertrude and Jojo’s conflicts. I think a lot of it has to do with the story being shortened a lot from the original to fit the time restraints of a kids’ version.  

The sets and costumes were big highlights. The main background is a large colorful painting of a multicolored Truffula tree forest with rolling hills. Surrounding the stage are five life-size Truffula tree props in various hues. Mayzie, Vlad the Eagle’s and JoJo’s parents’ costumes were my personal favorites because of how much character they had, especially Mayzie’s extravagant and eye-catching dress and tail! But I can’t forget the most memorable prop, the cartoonishly large “GAZAT” book shown at the beginning before the opening number. This is all even more impressive when you take into account that all the techies are students. Even alumni sometimes come back to help.

Speaking of musical numbers, I can’t talk about “Seussical” without sharing some of my favorites. Most of the songs are very energetic and upbeat, so when songs have a more calm or somber section, it carries a lot more weight because of the contrast, and even more impact when some songs fully take on that tone. Great examples of this are “Solla Sollew” and “Alone in the Universe,” with an honorable mention to Gertrude Mcfuzz’s introductory song (“The One Feather Tail of Miss Gertrude McFuzz”). “Alone in the Universe” is a song where both characters vented their emotions to no-one in particular. It doesn’t have much choreography because it’s a moment between Horton and JoJo, and they’re not singing directly to each other (because they’re in different worlds), but I think it’s still beautiful and heart touching because the build up and connection between them was perfect. “Solla Sollew” is a wholesome and slightly melancholy lullaby that Horton sings to the egg. That’s not to say that there weren’t any amazing energetic songs: “Monkey Around” was also one of my absolute favorite songs! It is very exhilarating and has one of the best choreographies in my opinion; it even has kids doing gymnastics at the beginning! 

The amazing director and theater teacher, Ms. Rasheed, graciously met up with me for an interview where she explained why she chose “Seussical.” 

“I think it’s really important to view ‘Seussical,’ or any work of Dr. Suess, in the context of 21st century narrative. And what I mean by that is, well, ‘Seussical’ is based on Dr. Seuss, and one of the most important books it’s adapted from is ‘Horton Hears a Who,’ which is a very popular English literature. One of the biggest reasons why I chose this musical is the fact that I really like the music, and I also wanted to reimagine Dr. Seuss. Because what a lot of people don’t know is that there is actually quite a bit of racist and sexist content in Dr. Seuss. There are six books which will currently probably be removed from print, because of their depictions of Asians, as well as black people just generally.” 

Ms. Rasheed elaborated even more on that by explaining to me what adapting the “Seussical” means to her:  “For me as a woman of Asian descent, I want to reclaim that literature, and do Dr. Seuss with our amazing diverse population. So that’s why I also did it nine years ago and why I want to revive it today, because for me theater is all about representation.” 

I learned a lot from interviewing Ms. Rasheed and it was a great experience hearing her perspective.

Overall, GAP’s production of “Suessical KIDS” was such a fun, extraordinary experience that had so much hard work go into it. We can take a moment to appreciate how things like these can really bring a community together (whether as an audience, or in the cast and crew), which is especially important with younger generations who have limited access to third spaces. In true theater fashion, let’s give a (figurative) round of applause to the amazing cast, crew and anyone else who helped to make “Seussical KIDS” so wonderful for everyone who saw it!

Tallulah Weston is a student at Global Arts Plus Upper Campus, an arts based magnet in St. Paul Public Schools. Learn more at globalarts.spps.org.

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