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Conifer High School cast brings ‘Seussical’ to fantastical life

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By Gabrielle Porter

“Seussical” has everything a high school play should have: Fantastical costumes. Flashy dance numbers. A heart-warming storyline. A large cast with plenty of room for more Who’s in Whoville.

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That’s why Conifer High School drama teacher Fran Arniotes chose the high-energy production in her bid to bolster the school’s performing arts program.

“It’s about the most fun you can have on a stage,” said Arniotes, who was hired last fall after retiring from a 17-year career at Evergreen High.

Arniotes, who also co-founded StageDoor Theatre, said she doesn’t know a better play for luring students to the stage than “Seussical.”

“It’s about … not fitting in exactly right, not being understood,” she said. “Great message.”

The 2000 musical by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty draws from more than a dozen beloved Dr. Seuss books and weaves the story of Horton the Elephant — played by junior Benjamin Powell, 16 — who alone of the creatures in the jungle can hear the voices of the Who’s of Whoville — a mini-metropolis located on a speck of dust.

Drama unfolds on a smaller scale when Whoville — lovingly protected by Horton — appears to be lost.

Horton is loved from afar by Gertrude McFuzz, played by junior Antigone Biddle. Biddle, an outgoing 16-year-old, shares little in common with wallflower Gertrude in Act 1. But, she said, she likes Gertrude’s evolution throughout the play from the meek bird-next-door to full-blown and gutsy heroine.

James Sorge, a 15-year-old freshman, plays JoJo, whose vivid imagination is the backdrop for the entire play.

“I’m just a little boy at heart, and I think a lot of thinks,” Sorge said in an echo of the show.

Sorge, a first-time performer, said his favorite scene occurs when, during JoJo’s bath, everything “comes to life” and fish start to dance.

He said that despite the show’s obvious fantastical side, he finds it show touching.

“Everyone can relate to this play in some way,” Sorge said.

The students performing it certainly seem to, including junior Sophie Saxton, 16, who says she doesn’t just play Mayzie, the larger-than-life party girl.

“I am Mayzie,” Saxton said, laughing while adjusting her chorus-girl-style headdress. “This is not hard for me.”

Saxton said she particularly likes Mayzie at Palm Beach, where her character lounges while the faithful Horton watches over her abandoned egg.

Cameron Doty, who plays bully Sour Kangaroo, said she loves portraying the antagonist. Doty, who has a background in competitive dance and sees herself more as an actress than a singer, said that, vocally, the play has been a challenge.

“(But) I love this show because it’s like a different world you can go inside,” Doty said, pointing to the stage where Saxton stood preening the feathers on her elaborate costume and getting ready for a sound check.

Doty shook her head at Saxton, adding, “She’s fabulous.”

Arniotes, speaking at a dress rehearsal two weeks before the premiere, said the cast has been working on the production since January. Students have shown up four days per week. Some students from West Jefferson Middle School in the cast have come as often as possible as well.

“They’ve been delightful,” Arniotes said. “There’s been no drama. It’s been idyllic.”

Bill Loper, the high school’s newly hired choir director and another Evergreen High retiree, was at the rehearsal helping with the instrumental band accompanying the play. It was the first time the musicians had worked with the actors, and Arniotes expected it might be a “train wreck.”

Loper said he expected the show to be fully put together by opening night.

“You have to love rehearsing. That’s where the magic takes place …,” he said, smiling. “The performance is kind of the icing on the cake.”

Contact Gabrielle Porter at gabrielle@evergreenco.com or at 303-350-1042. Follow her on Twitter at @gabyreport. Check www.HighTimberTimes.com for updates. 

 Seeing ‘Seussical’

Conifer High School’s production of “Seussical” will be performed at 7 p.m. March 10, 11 and 12, and at 2 p.m. March 13 at the high school. 

Tickets cost $10 for adults and $5 for students. The box office will open 45 minutes before the show begins. For details, call 303-982-5242.