When Valley Youth Theatre in Phoenix announced auditions for its August production of “Seussical,” William Richardson was eager to sign up. The Litchfield Park 13-year-old had been waiting for his shot to appear in a VYT show.
“I have wanted to perform in a show at VYT since seeing ‘Shrek’ a few years ago,” he said. “Just when I felt confident enough to audition, COVID-19 hit. Now that it’s coming to an end, I wanted to participate with this amazing theatre.”
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 in the show. Buckeye’s Kara Holguin, 16,felt the same way when she saw her name on the cast list. Though she worked on the tech crew for VYT’s “High School Musical” in June, “Seussical” marks her debut stage performance with VYT.
“The thing I like the most about Valley Youth Theater is the welcoming environment,” said Kara. “I joined VYT’s ‘High School Musical’ tech crew in the middle of tech week and immediately everyone was quick to welcome me into the show.”
Now, Kara is part of the “Seussical” ensemble. The musical 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.
While the show may seem best suited to very young audiences, the cast has a different point of view.
Sixteen-year-old AJ King of Avondale said it best with a Dr. Seuss-style rhyme: “The show is nostalgia for some and fun for all! The musical of Seuss caters to those tall or small!”
Bobb Cooper, director of “Seussical” and producing artistic director of VYT, says the musical gets right to the heart of the youth theatre company’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. Buckeye siblings Gabriella and Luca Grasso are thrilled with the audience’s reaction.
“I love it when the audience is up moving to the beat and leaves singing the songs,” said 16-year-old Gabriella, who plays a Bird Girl. “My hope is that the show entertains everyone no matter their age, and that it takes us all back to the days of reading fun adventures.”
Added 11-year-old Luca, who plays Jojo, “The last two years have been exhausting for all of us! I love that the audience can relax for the evening with an entertaining production and come with me, Jojo, on a fun journey of songs and adventure.”
For Laveen’s Neeya Nuez, 13, “Seussical” has provided opportunities to learn what it takes to put on a show while also spending time with friends.
“I like making new friends and learning new things, like what happens behind the scenes with costumes, tech, and singing and harmonizing as a group,” she said. “It is a great place and opportunity to experience the performing arts and grow as a person.”
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!”
Rosa Piña from Litchfield Park recognizes the difference in a VYT show.
“What I like about Valley Youth Theatre is that they are so inclusive with anyone,” said the 16-year-old, who plays the Sour Kangaroo.
Added Buckeye’s JR Riddle, 13, who also is making his debut with VYT, “I had heard from friends that VYT is a place where theatre is taken seriously and you work hard, but at the same time, is a fun place to be, with amazing shows.”
Bobb’s 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.
IF YOU GO:
“Seussical” by Valley Youth Theatre
Through Aug. 28 at the Herberger Theater Center