The Middle School at Episcopal School of Jacksonville presented a run of four performances of Seussical Jr. beginning October 19 on the Golden Pearl Foundation Stage at the Munnerlyn Center on the Episcopal School campus.
This was the Dual Critics first experience reviewing a middle school production. A young cast member we had covered in other plays in Jacksonville made us aware of this production. Seventh grader Joshua Johnson performed in “The Tempest” at UNF and “High School Musical” at the Alhambra Theatre. In Seussical Jr. Joshua played the very animated narrator/guide in “The Cat in the Hat” with an energetic and polished stage presence. We learned that he will be leaving for New York, as he was selected to dance in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade.
The Dual Critics reviewed a show in the Sikes Theatre on the campus of Episcopal several years ago, but this was our first experience at the new theatre in the Munnerlyn Center. This large auditorium space is state of the art and very comfortable.
We will forgo a lengthy plot summary since this is an after-the-fact review. Seussical Jr. is a musical journey through 17 Dr. Seuss stories. It is an ambitious project for any theatre, but especially for actors of middle school age.
The production was two hours of magic, with one entertaining song after another, as all those wonderful Seuss characters came alive on stage.
The show opened with Thing 1 (Kimberly Hogan) and Thing 2 (Katrina Motes) giving us the rules of the theatre, using emphatic pantomime. No cell phones, no eating, no flash photography and a new one on us, no chatting. (That is a good one.)
We were introduced to many unique people and animals, from the Bird Girls (Lauren Brown, Megan Carey and Kaiden Ketchum) to a major character, Horton the Elephant (Trey Spratling-Williams). We also met Mr. Mayor (Jacob Hane) and Mrs. Mayor (Camille Henley) and their daughter Jojo (Sara Cumella), who had one of the best singing voices in the cast.
Mayzie Labird (Elizabeth Scherick) lays an egg and sweet-talks Horton into sitting on it while she runs off to Palm Beach. Horton is tormented and bullied by the Wickersham monkeys (Abby Cain, Chase Nicholson and Erica MacKaness), as well as by Sour Kangaroo (Kendall Hunter) and flying eagle Vlad Vladikoff (Asiyah Rasheed), and he is later judged by Yertle the Turtle (Camp Shelor). The only real friends Horton has are Jojo and Gertrude McFuzz (Julia Lewis).
There are lots of characters like the Circus Animals/Jungle Citizens and the Citizens of Whoville. There were 48 students in the cast, and that includes the dance ensemble.
The Fine Arts Department pulled out all the stops to make this a meaningful experience not only for those on stage, but also for all the support staff and crew members, which included a number of Upper School students.
Live music was provided by Ellen Milligan on keyboards, accompanied by woodwinds, brass and percussion. Ms. Milligan was also the vocal coach.
The sets by Mr. Scenic Design himself, Johnny Pettegrew, portrayed fantastic regions and ranged from the jungle to the circus to the land of the very tiny Whos.
The two hardest working women in Jacksonville theatre, Camela Pitts and Dorinda Quiles (The Costume Crew), created all of the many, many costumes, mostly in bright hues. They used ingenuity in styling the characters. The Bird Girls were particularly striking, as they appeared in gowns of solid colors with matching wigs and tails, while wigs of unconventional styling were used for the citizens of Whoville.
Megan Elsila as Technical Director/Lighting Design created very professional lighting designs using the large white backdrop for many color combinations and designs. The underwater scene with the floating fish and bubbles was truly inspired and outstanding.
Episcopal graduate Taylor Horne directed, with Ashleigh Watkins as Student Director and Stage Manager. Seussical Jr. was a big dance show with choreographers Tess Ferguson and Kelby Siddons using the entire stage and, at times, the second level on top of the principal set as well as the aisles.
The inspired performances by the cast, along with the wonderful set and costumes, made this a show to remember. The vocals were good—some better than others, but this young cast is still growing and developing their voices. There were a number of future musical theatre stars performing in this show.
As we were exiting the theatre, we commented to each other that we had gone to shows in Las Vegas and other professional venues that did not have the production value of Episcopal’s.
Seussical Jr. brought an outstanding theatrical experience to all participants, including the members of the cast, the crew and the audience.