Breckenridge Backstage Theatre launches new S.T.E.P. program with ‘Seussical Jr.’
If you go
What: “Seussical Jr.” (run time 1 hour), part of the Breckenridge Backstage Theatre’s 41st season
When: 7 p.m. Friday, May 8, and Saturday, May 9, and 2 p.m. Sunday, May 10
Where: Summit Middle School Auditorium, 158 County Road 1030, Frisco
Cost: $10 general admission; water and snacks will be available
More information: Purchase tickets for the all-ages show at the door or online at backstagetheatre.org
An all-student production of “Seussical Jr.” will launch the Breckenridge Backstage Theatre’s inaugural S.T.E.P. program this weekend, with performances Friday, May 8, through Sunday, May 10, at the Summit Middle School Auditorium in Frisco.
Dr. Seuss’s best-loved characters — including Horton the Elephant and The Cat in the Hat — collide and cavort in this musical caper from Tony award winners Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. Transporting audiences from the Jungle of Nool to the Circus McGurkus, The Cat in the Hat narrates the story of Horton, an elephant who discovers a speck of dust containing tiny people called the Whos, including JoJo, a Who child who gets in trouble for thinking too many “thinks.”
Horton’s challenge is twofold. Not only must he protect the Whos from a world of naysayers and dangers, but he must also guard an abandoned egg that’s been left in his care by the irresponsible Mayzie La Bird. Although Horton faces ridicule, danger, kidnapping and a trial, the intrepid Gertrude McFuzz never loses faith in him. Ultimately, the powers of friendship, loyalty, family and community are challenged and emerge triumphant.
Christopher Willard, artistic director of the Backstage Theatre who is handling lighting and production for “Seussical Jr.,” said despite the young cast, there weren’t many surprises as the show came together and the actors began to display their ability levels.
“I’m pleasantly surprised that they’ve really come up to the task, embraced the show, grown so incredibly well with it,” he said. “I knew that would happen, I knew they could do that. Our Summit County talent, they are gems and they really know how to bring it onstage.”
Merrily Talbott directs “Seussical Jr.,” with music directed by Gail Smith and choreography by Abbey Austin. The cast is composed of Summit County students in third through 12th grades and features Emily Bell (The Cat), Nathan Quandt (Horton), Brody Lineaweaver (JoJo), Isabela Imamura (Gertrude), Cait McCluskie (Maysie), Summer Krueger (Sour Kangaroo), Levi Quandt (Mr. Mayor), Cammie Wilson (Mrs. Mayor) and Jimmy Patalan (Yertle the Turtle).
Willard said it was important for the Backstage Theatre to create a program where kids could put on a full-blown production entirely populated by student actors because the more they experience the process of taking a story from script to stage, the better they get.
“The more opportunities students have to perform on stage and learn the craft, the better performers they become, the better people they become, the better humanitarians they become. It’s all wrapped into the same thing,” he said. “We’re growing the technical skills of the students — what it takes to land a joke, to nail a song, to pick up a dropped cue to keep the show going, to come out of their shells and become better actors and singers and performers.”
The cast also includes Maggie Fisk, Freya Schlaefer, Ava Liebendorfer, Olivia Brown-Wolf, Seraya Talbott-Carey, Jordan Bussy, Carson Michalowski, Thomas Francis, Ian Hans, Ella Suchomski, Natalie Scott, Kamilla Stone, Sydney Donovan, Leila Nearpass, Gracelyn Garvert, Sean O’Brien, Nathan Habermas, Katheria Lee, Kait Schultz, Jeremiah Vaille, Tucker Berg, Lexi Vaille, Maclean Donovan, Foster Krueger, Austin Parmley and Abigail Grunes.
“It’s such a fun show, and it’s been an amazing process working with them and to see how they are growing every day,” Willard said. “I know the audience will love it.”
The Breckenridge Backstage Theatre’s new Student Theatre Enrichment Program (S.T.E.P.) was created to inspire the children in Summit County to embrace the performing arts and to expand their involvement with the theater. S.T.E.P. builds upon another Backstage program called Kids’ Play, where kids spend 10 weeks working on a project and then present it to their family and friends.
“A) it was time for us to grow our Kids’ Play program and expand and do something that’s a compliment to the classwork and something that’s more focused on putting on a production,” Willard said. “And B) it came from a desire to augment the annual Labor Day show that we do at the Riverwalk.
“That’s a community endeavor, but we’ve been bringing in out-of-town talent to play some of the leading roles, and we wanted to get our students in grades three to 12 to play those lead roles, to grow our talent and give them those opportunities.”
According to the Backstage Theatre, numerous studies have shown the benefits of performing arts education for children. Students with high arts involvement perform better on standardized achievement tests, watch fewer hours of TV, participate in more community service projects and report less boredom in school. S.T.E.P. was created to give Summit County youth more opportunities to participate in live theater through the production of a Broadway musical where they are the only stars.
“Right now, we’re hoping to do it once a year,” Willard said of the program. “We’ll have to see how it’s catching on and how it’s embraced by the community. We’re always open to feedback, receptive to that, and we’ll do our best to continue to improve the program.”
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