Weston Playhouse is presenting its Young Company in the popular musical comedy “Seussical” on tour to 11 different locations throughout southern and central Vermont July 22-Aug. 7 — and admission is free.
The 2000 show is based on many of the children's stories of Dr. Seuss — Theodor Seuss Geisel — with most of its plot based on “Horton Hears a Who!” and “Horton Hatches the Egg!” The music is by Stephen Flaherty, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens; book by Ahrens and Flaherty; co-conceived by Ahrens, Flaherty and Eric Idle.
Director Allison Benko has been a teaching artist for Weston’s Young Playwrights program for two seasons and was asked to direct the musical.
“Almost every word comes from Seuss,” she said by phone recently. “There are a couple of liberties that the playwrights took in how they combined all the different stories. What (they) did is define some of the characters more clearly, give them additional points of view.”
On her website, Benko relays a passion for interpreting classics in a way that reveals the unexpected about contemporary society. In this case, Horton the Elephant, the Cat in the Hat and other favorite characters make appearances in bringing the brightly colored world of Dr. Seuss to life, but Benko took some creative liberties with casting.
“I love this idea of a fresh interpretation,” she said. “Whenever we’re doing a show, we can’t accept the story at face value. We’ve got to dig into each moment and try to turn it on its head to try to see what’s actually going on, because that’s how we can understand it better.”
“If we take it at face value we’re just dealing with stereotypes,” Benko said. “Rather than interrogating what an action or a story means in our world today, one way that I’ve tried to interpret this in a fresh way is through casting.”
“(For) the mayor of Whoville, every production I’ve ever seen has always been male,” she said. “And we’re in a moment now where we’re seeing more female politicians than ever participating in our democracy as elected officials. It felt important to reflect that in the story, so we have a female mayor.”
The Cat in the Hat, also typically performed by a man, is also cast as a female.
“It felt important to me to have a female cat,” Benko said. “And finally Mayzie, who is this lazy bird who underwent this incredible transformation of having been plagued with only one feather on her tail, but then later had this whirlwind coming out to become Amazing Mayzie where she’s got so many feathers, to me the metaphor for that in our contemporary society is a drag queen.
“So in our production, Mayzie is a drag queen.”
Benko described the mood of the show as “the most fun backyard party that you’ve ever been to,” and said it's good for “children of all ages, including adults.”
“In terms of what all of this reveals about contemporary society,” she added, “I think it’s that no matter where we are in time, no matter where our society is at, we are always desperately in need of creativity and inspiration. The show has reaffirmed for me the importance of community and a community coming together to support the idea of inspiration.”
All performances are outdoors, including Weston’s under the Walker Farm tent, in accordance with Actors’ Equity Association COVID-19 guidelines.