The eastern wall of the Roslyn High School auditorium is adorned with framed posters of plays and musicals performed by the Royal Crown Players, the school’s resident theater troupe, in years past. Small-theater mainstays like “Bye Bye Birdie” and “Little Shop of Horrors” have taken the stage, as have grand operettas like “Evita” and “The Pirates of Penzance.”
This weekend, the latest show to join the Royal Crown ranks will be “Seussical the Musical,” based on children’s books by Dr. Seuss, with a score and book by Tony Award winners Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty and direction by Roslyn High music teacher Cyndi Feinman.
Combining stories and characters from the Seuss canon, the musical’s references span household-name books like “Horton Hears a Who” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” to more obscure titles like “The Butter War” and “I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew.” After a short Broadway run in 2001, the show has lived on as a crowd-pleaser in countless community and school theater productions.
Senior Oliver Topel of Roslyn, who portrays the Mayor of Whoville, was among those eager to hear the musical announced.
“It’s one of my favorite shows,” Topel said. “I was really excited when I learned we were doing it.”
Sophomore Andrew Defrin of Roslyn Country Estates, who serves as assistant director of the show, says that the show presented a challenge for the cast and crew.
“At first, I thought, it’s ‘Seussical,’ how difficult can it be?” Defrin said. “But then we started rehearsals, and it was more difficult than I imagined at first.”
Sophomore Saydie Grossman of Greenvale plays Gertrude McFuzz, the subject of a short story where her one-feather tail grows to enormous lengths, and says that the musical’s ubiquity makes “Seussical” a difficult show to pull off.
“When we first went into it, Ms. Feinman said this was going to be a really unique production, we’re going to really get the deeper aspects as opposed to the cartoonish characters,” Grossman said. “And once we started rehearsals, we really realized how deep we were diving.”
The production sees the cast donning jeans, sweatsuits, leggings and overalls to offer a more “realistic” version of the timeless characters. Senior Alex Russ of Roslyn plays Seuss’ most iconic character, the Cat in the Hat.
“With our costumes and the way we’re taking it acting-wise, we’re taking more of a contemporary spin on it,” Russ said.
Defrin added that he and sophomore Davey Fried of Roslyn, who plays Horton the Elephant, started conceiving backgrounds once the show was announced, thinking of ways to invoke Seuss’ original sketches.
“We were thinking, what would the best set be, what would be as simple as possible?” Defrin said. “And we had professionals come in for lighting and sound.”
Freshman Tyler Turetsky previously performed with the Players in short spurts as an eighth-grader, but joined the show this year as one of the Wickersham Brothers.
“In this production, connection is key, you want to be able to relate to these characters,” Turetsky said. “Everything and everyone is interconnected, and you’re not alone, those are what the show is about.”
Ultimately, the cast members say, they are looking to carry through a unique message in a creative yet simple fashion – a strategy not unlike Seuss’ own when it came to his children’s books.
“It’s less about animals and more about the human experience, and that’s what we’re trying to show here,” Russ said. “Every character represents a different human emotion, and everyone in the cast has worked hard to see what they can bring to their own role.”
Just before the cast members took the stage for the dress rehearsal, Feinman announced that they would be receiving a Skype call that night from Tony Award nominee Kevin Chamberlin, who played Horton in the original Broadway cast of “Seussical.” In the midst of squeals of delight from his cast mates, Russ looked puzzled.
“I thought he was coming to the show on Friday,” Russ said.
“He can’t, he’s been invited to perform at Carnegie Hall,” Feinman answered.
Russ thought for a moment, then shrugged, quipping, “Well, we all make choices.”
The Royal Crown Players’ production of “Seussical the Musical” will be presented in the Roslyn High School Auditorium on Thursday, Nov. 21, at 3:30 p.m., Friday, Nov. 22, at 8 p.m., and Saturday, Nov. 23, at 8 p.m., with tickets available online or at the box office at 516-801-5156, priced at $12 for adults and $10 for students.