Oh the places you’ll go when you spend time with San Diego’s East County CYT as they present a delightful and professional production of Seussical the Musical. This wonderful musical, based on the works of the legendary Dr. Seuss, will have you laughing, singing and cheering as you join The Cat in the Hat and JoJo for a romp through the Jungle of Nool and the world of Who – "the tiniest planet in the sky.”
For generations the rhymes and characters of Dr. Seuss have entertained both children and adults alike, bringing us not on the The Cat but Horton the Elephant, Thing One and Thing Two, the Whos and many more. All of these and many more cross the stage at Lewis Middle School to the accompaniment of a live band. For CYT, this is a perfect play on so many levels – it provides both entertainment and important messages. It reminds us that not only are there more important things to worry about than which side we butter our bread and “a person’s a person, no matter how small,” but that in the end it is our true friends who will stand beside us in times of trouble.
At the performance on Sunday, March 3, even the audience was in the Seuss mood, with red-and-white striped hats in abundance. The Chet Harritt School kindergarten class, nicknamed The Whos, even attended as a Cat-hatted group.
Anton Fero, a transplant from New York, is the director for Seussical and he is understandable proud of the way his young thespians have taken to their roles. He is also quite happy to be working with CYT for the second time – his first was as director for Wizard of Oz in 2012.
“It’s wonderful to work with kids,” Fero said during intermission. “It’s wonderful to do a show through CYT; I think it’s a wonderful organization. Actually I married a girl that I met in New York who grew up doing CTY, so that’s how I got involved. We moved back here after we got married and it’s a wonderful experience and just a chance to kind of invest in kids.”
Asked if there was a scene that, for him, encompassed the true meaning of the show, Fero explained, “I think ‘Alone in the Universe’ is a really great moment, when Horton and JoJo kind of meet. Horton’s singing to the clover, talking to JoJo. We have JoJo talking to Horton. So we have this really cool imaginary world with Horton trying to save these people that we see as real.”
Dallas Perry, who shines in the role of The Cat, is a CYT veteran who attends West Hills High School in Santee. Since his first lead role as Jesse in Bridge to Terabithia, Dallas has shown that he has the ability to handle both dramatic and comic roles. But it is as The Cat that he has perhaps found the role he was meant for. From his first appearance to the closing scene, he fills the character with all the energy, sarcasm and chaotic appeal we find in the original books.
“I love being The Cat because I kind of just get to do whatever I want and I get to improv with the audience and just make them laugh,” Perry admitted. “I like how I get to brighten up the mood when things are a little sad.”
“When I found out I was going to play The Cat I was super excited because there is so much freedom with this character,” Dallas continued. “It can be different every night, and you get to break the fourth wall and be friends with the audience when everyone else is in character. I get to come out of the audience a couple times in the show, and it’s fun because I get to mess with the people.”
During the performance on Sunday, with the cast of CYT Central’s Thoroughly Modern Millie in the audience, Dallas took the opportunity for some good-natured razzing. “You all look so thoroughly modern,” he told the audience. “And if you didn't understand that, you probably don’t want to.”
As good as Perry is as The Cat, the show is stolen by the performance of nine-year-old Scotty Atienza as General Genghis Khan Schmitz, the leader of the Whos in the great Butter Battle. Taking on JoJo, the freely-thinking daughter of the Mayor of Who and his wife, in an effort to cure her of daydreaming, Schmitz vows to turn her into a non-thinking soldier. In the role, Scotty stalks the stage with all the bluster and energy of a pint-sized George C. Scott reprising Patton.
Another key to the show is the character of Mayzie La Bird, played by Cara Filley, another West Hills student. It is Mayzie’s desire to take a break from egg-sitting that ensnares Horton and leaves him literally “up a tree.” Filley, who last appeared as one of the Silly Girls in CYT’s production of Beauty and the Beast, is excited to be playing the part.
“Playing Amazing Mayzie is one of the most fun roles because I get to play a sassy bird character who just thinks she’s better than everyone else,” Filley said. “I just love exuding that energy onto the stage. When I found out I was going to be Mazy I was just ecstatic. I was so excited to play this role.”
Joining her older sister on stage, in her first lead role, is Emma Filley, who plays the important role of JoJo. In the play, JoJo is both the foil for The Cat and the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Mayor of Who. Her thinking pulls The Cat onto the stage to begin the play, and her thinking also gets her in trouble on Who. But in the end it is her thinking that saves the planet and citizens of Who from being boiled in beezlenut oil.
“Being JoJo is really fun and exciting for me because it’s my first main part,” said Emma. “I get to be in a lot of stuff and I rhyme a lot. It’s just really fun. When I found out I was going to be JoJo I was just frozen. I was next to my friends, and I was just, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m going to be JoJo!’”
West Hills senior Brandon Lisama, who starred as The Beast in Beauty and the Beast, takes on the role of Wickrufio, the head of the Wickersham Brothers who torment Horton as he tries to save the Whos. Wickrufio is a street-wise monkey with a rock-star personality, something that Lisama found easy to do.
“It wasn’t really difficult to come up with the personality because it’s pretty much who I am – a different side of me, just a little more ‘street,’” Brandon admitted. “It’s definitely fun because basically you just get to monkey around and have fun out there and do whatever you want.”
Other standout performances in the show are put in by Sarah Prentiss as the lovelorn Gertrude McFuzz, Lief Corbeil and Heather Armstrong as Mr. and Mrs. Mayor and Aaron Corbeil as Horton the Elephant. With all of the energy and enthusiasm, this is a show that is not to be missed.
“People should see Seussical because our version we have put together is as professional as we could make it for kids who would like to pursue this later,” said Director Fero. “It’s just a chance for kids to experience something as close professional theater. I know people only see things from an audience’s point of view, but we have a kid as stage manager who does everything a professional stage manager would do. We have another kid who is running lights, one running sound. They’re all kids who are being thrust into a professional position to do this, and I think they are doing a very good job.”
“People should come and see Seussical because it is such a vibrant show with such awesome characters,” said Dallas Perry. “It’s a lot of stories that are familiar growing up and it kind of just links them all together through song and acting. It’s really fun.”
“Seussical is special because it’s well-known stories by Dr. Seuss, and it’s just a fun-filled show that all families can come and see,” Cara Filley said. “People should come and see this show because it’s a very kid-friendly show, it has a lot of energy and you can sing along with the songs.”
Emma Filley agreed with her sister, saying, “People should come see the show because it’s really fun. It makes the whole audience be like, ‘Wow, these people are good. I want to see another show!’”
“It’s so universal because everybody can find their own story here and relate to just about every character,” said Brandon Lisama. “It’s just a good, solid show. If you like seeing kids perform, it’s definitely one of the better ones.”
“The story of Seussical I think is really cool – it’s timeless, imaginary – about caring about people no matter who they are,” said Fero. “Come see a very sincere adaptation of a timeless story.”
CYT East County’s production of Seussical the Musical continues Friday and Saturday, March 8 and 9, at 7:00 p.m., Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and Sunday, March 10, at 3:00 p.m. at Lewis Middle school, 5170 Greenbrier Ave., San Diego 92120. For ticket information, visit the CYT website or call 619-588-0206.
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