When Valley Youth Theatre in Phoenix announced auditions for its August production of “Seussical,” William Lovell was eager to sign up. The Mesa 15-year-old was just wrapping his first role at VYT — a jock in the theater company’s production of “High School Musical” — and he knew he wanted more.
“I had a great experience with ‘High School Musical’ and wanted to participate in another VYT show,” said William, a sophomore at ASU Preparatory Academy. “‘Seussical’ is a favorite!”
A fantastical, magical, musical extravaganza from Tony Award winners Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, “Seussical” performs at the Herberger Theater Center in downtown Phoenix through Aug. 28.
William was thrilled when he was cast as Horton the Elephant. His little brother, Elliot, 11, felt the same way when he saw his name on the cast list. “Seussical” marks his debut stage performance with VYT.
“We are having so much fun,” said Elliot, a sixth grade homeschool student. “Everyone here is so kind and friendly.”
Elliot was cast in the “Seussical” ensemble and plays a variety of roles, from a Whoville Who to a cadet in General Genghis Khan Schmitz’ military school.
The production brings to life beloved Dr. Seuss characters including Horton the Elephant, The Cat in the Hat, Gertrude McFuzz, lazy Mayzie and Jojo, a little boy with a big imagination. The colorful characters transport audiences from the Jungle of Nool to the Circus McGurkus to the invisible world of the Whos.
“This entire show is filled with so many different plots and characters, but it tells a wonderful story,” said Carter Samuel, 17, who is marking his debut performance with VYT as a Wickersham Brother.
Carter, a senior at Red Mountain High School in Mesa, has a message for audiences: “Really pay attention to each and every character because every person, no matter the role, has put thought and effort to bring these Dr. Seuss characters to life.”
“Seussical” director and VYT’s producing artistic director, Bobb Cooper, said the musical gets right to the heart of VYT’s mission and values. For example, a theme threaded throughout the show is, “The world can be saved by the smallest of all.”
“Our performers are young children and teens, but they have the ability to make a huge impact on the world around them,” he said. “Our goal at VYT is to inspire young people to be the best they can be. The themes of this show are right in line with that goal.”
VYT’s production has received high acclaim. Fifteen-year-old Hailey Laidig, a sophomore at Mountain View High school, is thrilled with the audience’s response and eager to demonstrate the capabilities of young performers.
“I want audiences to notice how much talent is in youth theatre,” said Hailey, who is making her VYT debut as a member of the “Seussical” ensemble. “So many teens and children have many talents and it’s amazing that we get to portray them!”
Added William, “I want the audience to recognize the amazing choreography and harmonies.”
VYT’s directing team and cast worked tirelessly to polish every last detail, from the acting and vocals to the choreography, set and costumes.
“My goal was for the costumes to be a colorful splash on the stage,” said Karol Cooper, VYT’s resident costume director. “One of my favorite pieces in the show is Gertrude’s huge, growing tail. It’s a sight gag in the show and it makes me so happy when a piece of costuming makes the audience applaud or laugh!”
Fifteen-year-old Xander Zeeb lives in Mesa but attends Saguaro High School in Scottsdale. The sophomore recognizes the difference in a VYT show.
“I’ve always heard amazing things from everyone in the Valley about how great VYT is,” said Xander, who plays the role of General Schmitz in his first production with VYT. “What I like most is how welcoming everyone is. I felt like I knew everyone in the first 10 minutes of being there.”
“I really like their level of dedication and the effort they put into all of their shows,” added Carter. “When you get cast in a VYT production, you know that your creative team is going to work hard for you to shine and end with a really amazing production that you’ll be proud of.”
Bobb is quick to point out it’s the talented young performers who make VYT’s production of “Seussical” special.
“These kids are so special,” he said. “They are extremely gifted performers, but they’re also working together with such kindness and consideration. This is making for an even better production that’s blowing audiences away.”
Tickets for VYT’s “Seussical” start at $16.50 and can be purchased at vyt.com/tickets.