Seuss’ musesWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | firstname.lastname@example.org
One of the great joys of being parents is watching our sons discover interests and explore new activities. Our 4-year-old, Sean, loves music, dancing and soccer. His 6-year-old brother, Evan, is a reader, Lego builder and modest budding athlete, with an affinity for T-ball and bantam bowling.
It was a mild surprise when Evan brought home a flier announcing auditions for a play. The Tecumseh Youth Theatre (TYT) was producing “Seussical the Musical” and was looking to integrate elementary students into the cast. TYT is an independent nonprofit not officially affiliated with Tecumseh Public Schools, but it draws the majority of its youth actors from that system. We try to encourage the boys to try new things, so we took him to the audition.
We arrived to find there were more than 140 elementary students trying out for about 16 ensemble roles.
Evan was undeterred and, in the closed audition, apparently sang a spirited version of “Happy Birthday.”
A week or so passed, and as you have likely surmised from the direction of this discussion, Evan was chosen for a part. He was excited and we were excited for him, even after we realized the amount of rehearsal time the production required. Evan was told as long as his school studies and homework were not affected, he could participate. So, from early February through the play’s debut at the Tecumseh Center for the Arts on March 22, Evan and his elementary castmates rehearsed and were assigned roles. Evan was a Who, a fish in McElligot’s pool and a boy in military school. The late nights were a challenge, but Evan learned his songs and came home each night excited about being part of the production.
“Seussical The Musical” mashes together dozens of Dr. Seuss characters, including The Cat In The Hat, Yertle The Turtle and The Grinch, with passing mentions of The Lorax, The Sneeches and many others. Its story and songs focus on two characters, Horton the Elephant and JoJo, melding two Horton stories, “Horton Hatches The Egg” and “Horton Hears A Who.” The main message is the importance of individuality and the danger in conforming to societal pressure. Horton braves ridicule and bullying to maintain his loyalty to his friends. JoJo’s independent thinking gets him in trouble at school and causes strife at home, and his refusal to blindly march in line at military school results in his parents believing he is lost in The Butter Battle.
So, to recap, the play celebrates and encourages those who refuse to blend in with the crowd and who instead choose to assert their individuality.
You know where this is going, don’t you?
The March 22 performance was played to a full house. It was a remarkable production (directed by Jamie Buechele and produced by Molly Rice), with a $15,000 budget, a 40-member cast and professional sets, costumes and choreography. It was an ambitious, complex and full production with 40 songs and a live orchestra. Standouts in the cast included Jake Ringer as Horton, Bryan Gilbey as The Cat In The Hat, Becca Nowak as the Sour Kangaroo (who performed her entire role carrying little Brenna Davis as the Young Kangaroo on her back) and the amazing Evan Pollet, a second-grader who carried the show with countless lines, songs and choreography. The production featured elements of ballet, circus acrobatics, black-light jazz hands and myriad musical styles.
Of course, none of the spectacle was as anticipated by me as my son’s several stage appearances. During his first time onstage, standing with about a dozen Whos, Evan spotted his family in the audience and timidly waved, drawing laughter from the audience and looks of consternation form some of the teenage Whos in his row. During an interlude in which several small Whos played very Seussian musical instruments, the Whos on the balcony above stood still and watched the band. All the Whos except our Evan, who danced up a storm as the spirited music played.
Now, during this brief minute or two, no actors were singing or speaking. It was just several Whos pretending to play Jing Tinglers, Flu Floopers, Tar Tinkers and Who Hoovers. As Evan danced, drawing laughter from some audience members, the teen Who behind him placed her hand on his shoulder and tried to still him. Evan wiggled away and continued channeling James Brown. It wasn’t obnoxious or wild, but as he was the only one not standing still, it drew attention to him. He continued tripping the light fantastic until the matriarchal teen Who physically pulled him back into line and forced him to stand still. That drew murmurs of disappointment from several people around me, but the scene soon ended.
From my seat in the audience, I marveled at the irony that in a play celebrating individuality and the refusal to conform, our son was being reined in and forced to abandon his individuality in the name of conformity.
Evan later cavorted in a full fish costume, without incident, then later marched in line with several boys in military garb. Except, rather than marching, he skipped, and when called upon to perform calisthenics, dropped into a push-up stance but proceeded to wildly kick his feet as if carrying out a crazed series of hyperkinetic bear crawls.
During the play’s climax, as the Whos jump and shout “We are here! We are here!” to prove their existence and save their world, Evan yelled and jumped as high as he could. For the finale, as the entire cast rocked out to “Green Eggs and Ham,” Evan’s little legs and feet were a blur of musical celebration.
In other words, every time Evan appeared on stage, he had fun.
Which is what it’s all about, right?
After the play, he excitedly asked if we had seen his “bonus moves,” a phrase he picked up from the Wii game “Just Dance.”
I was never backstage during the production, but I know the director told Evan he was fine and that the parental teen Whos would leave him alone. But the message to chill out got through, and when Evan took the stage on the next night, there was no waving, no dancing, no bonus moves.
He was just another little boy standing in line, behaving. It saddened me to see him not enjoying himself (to be fair, a runny nose and six consecutive nights of ignored bedtimes did not help his attitude). He was going through the motions, clearly unhappy to be caged. I wanted to yell up at him to dance and have fun, but of course, as a well behaving and conforming member of society, I did not.
But during the finale, as the cast cut loose, Evan’s attitude returned. He shuffled away from the Who who had acted like a teacher from Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” and danced his little shoes off, twisting and singing and rocking out.
The Whos around him, finally catching on, danced as well, joining him in a chaotic, bouncing, nonconforming line. I was the first to rise from my seat and start the standing ovation.
I don’t want Evan to draw undue attention to himself when it’s not appropriate and I certainly do not want him to be a troublemaker. But I do want him to understand that standing still and falling in line are not always the same thing as behaving. I want his spirit to burn bright and lead the way, not get lost in a long line of followers.
I can tell him from experience that there is a price to pay for following your hunches and standing up for yourself, but I can also tell him from experience that when you do … oh, the places you’ll go.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press and Toledo Free Press Star. Email him at email@example.com.