In its final show of its summer season, Children's Musical Theaterworks returns to a favorite: "Seussical Jr." The company has performed two previous incarnations of the musical, and now for the first time presents the "Junior" edition of the show with performers ages 11-15.
We caught up via email with director Cameron Briggs to talk about the production.
Question: For those who aren't familiar, can you give a brief synopsis?
Answer: "Seussical Jr." is a fun and magical romp through the world of Dr. Seuss that we all grew up with! The musical cleverly does a "mashup" of some of Seuss' most popular tales such as "Horton Hears a Who," "The Cat in the Hat," "Oh the Things You Can Think" and many more! The Cat in the Hat serves as our narrator and guides a young girl, "Jojo" through the story along with the audience.
Were you involved in or did you see the previous "Seussical" CMT productions? Are you able to use any of the old sets/costumes from those productions?
The two previous productions at CMT occurred before I was involved, however I gained a lot of inspiration for how the show best works in the space of the Veterans Memorial Auditorium by watching archive footage of past productions and talking with production staff who were there at the time. All of the costumes and sets for this production are brand new thanks to designers Abigail Paxton and Victoria Robinson, who really helped bring my vision for this production to life. The only thing brought back from the past is a cleverly disguised go-kart that you'll want to look out for!
"Seussical" isn't an easy show to produce. It has a complicated storyline, lots of fanciful characters (including an elephant who sits in a tree) and challenging music. What strategy did you use?
There were definitely a lot of aspects of this musical that needed to be tackled. Luckily, I had a great team to rely on and help me break it down. I tried to focus on one piece and a time to make each section the best it could be, and with the help of the technical team, my Stage Manager Laura Ramirez, and Vocal Coach/Assistant Director Daniel Hernandez, we came up with some clever solutions for seemingly tough problems such as how to make a bird's tail feathers magically grow onstage! It also helps to have an amazingly talented cast of 11- to 15-year-olds who have really shown incredible maturity in getting this complicated piece of work accomplished.
A "person's a person, no matter how small." What are some of the themes of "Seussical" that speak to you?
Since the show incorporates so many of Dr. Seuss' stories, it includes many of his moral lessons as well, hidden in a package of singing and dancing. One of the most prevalent is when Gertrude McFuzz learns that she doesn't have to change the way she looks or acts to be loved by others. She just has to be herself. It is really such an important theme for the cast who are mostly in junior high school, and beginning to figure out who they are. Probably the main thing that the musical conveys is that it's important to be creative and not be afraid to have large "thinks" and "dream in bright colors."
Did your parents read lots of Dr. Seuss to you as a kid? What's your favorite book/character and why?
Reading was very important in our family and we have a lot of Dr.Seuss books on the shelf to this day. I'm sure my parents would hope that my favorite would be something like "Oh, the Places You'll Go" but I think my favorite was "The Cat in the Hat." The character was so funny and, as the middle child, I think I secretly wanted to be as mischievous as him.
Catch us up on your own theater background.
It feels like I've been involved in theater in some way or another my whole life. I took dance and singing lessons with GCP as a child as well as participating in workshops. I've been in choirs since age 10, which is where I really fell in love with music. I am currently a vocal performance major at Fresno City College. After graduating from Clovis East High School, where I was heavily involved in the drama, dance, and music departments, I was asked to return as a vocal coach for the school's mainstage musicals. This also led to me being a founding member of Clovis East's Experimental Theater Company, in which alumni return and helm their own productions to give the students more performing opportunities. I have also been in many productions at CMT as an actor as well.
If you could direct any musical for your next project, what would it be?
My favorite shows of all time are "Forever Plaid," "The Last Five Years," "Ordinary Days," and "Glory Days." So probably one of those. Apparently I have an affinity for shows with less than five people in them!
Who's your favorite Broadway actor/actress?
Definitely Cheyenne Jackson. I recently took a trip to San Francisco to see him perform "West Side Story" in concert with the symphony there. He is an extremely talented vocalist, and he has an interesting story; he decided to move to New York to pursue a theater career, landed the first job he auditioned for and the rest is history!
Anything else you'd like to say?
This is a really special production that people should not shy away from just because it's younger performers. They will blow you away! Also the show itself has an amazing score by Flaherty and Ahrens, the composers of Broadway hits such as "Once On This Island" and "Ragtime." This is not just theater for children. The entire family will have a great time at this production.
"Seussical Jr.," through Aug. 25, Fresno Memorial Auditorium, 2425 Fresno St. cmtworks.org, (559) 442-3140. $14-$22.
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6373, firstname.lastname@example.org and @donaldbeearts on Twitter.