Local actors transformed in 'Seussical'

Up on Capitol Hill, there lives a Cat in the Hat, a Sour Kangaroo, a monkey named Wickersham and a sad little bird named Gertrude McFuzz.

In their regular lives, these local actors are known as Daniel C. Dennis (the Cat), Lakeetra Knowles (the Kangaroo), Ian Lindsay (Wickersham Brother) and Kirsten Hopkins (Gertrude).

After attending an open audition at the Seattle Children's Theatre, they found themselves spending most of their waking time in "Seussical," a musical based on the famous picture books of Dr. Seuss.

"I didn't know "Seussical" at all. I'd never heard the music, but I knew that there had been musical on Broadway based on Seuss," said Dennis.

The SCT version has been considerably cut down and tightened from the Broadway musical and road show. Now a brisk 70 minutes, the show concentrates on the trials and tribulations of Horton the Elephant, his quest to save the miniscule Whos and his reluctant hatching of an egg.

As the Cat, Dennis prods the action along, encouraging young Jojo to imagine "the thinks that you can think" and getting the audience to play along.

"I love that this show has moments where I get some latitude in how I'm going to handle response from the kids," said Dennis.

As the father of two young children, Dennis knows his Seuss. During rehearsal, "I learned a few Seuss books that I didn't know of. And there are a few that get read a lot at my house now. I've always liked "Green Eggs and Ham," and I think that the Sam I Am character is similar to the Cat," he said.

Thwarting Horton on his quest to rescue the Whos are other members of the Jungle of Nool, including a purple Sour Kangaroo and a trio of blue monkeys known as the Wickersham Brothers.

Knowles has found her character to be the most feared and, according to her, most misunderstood by the audience.

"I had a child cry when his mom tried to make him get my autograph," she said. "I love the 'how true' moment at the end of the show when people realize that the Sour Kangaroo is not really sour. She just doesn't know that the Whos are there."

Not surprisingly, Knowles' favorite Seuss character is the Grinch, whom she claims was just as misunderstood as the Sour Kangaroo and not really a bad person.

"I remember the "Grinch" and watching it every Christmas. I loved it," Knowles said. Although she has not become sour, Knowles does find a little of the kangaroo's mannerisms creeping into her daily life. "Each show that I do, I pick up something from the character and it finds its way into my vocabulary. I find myself saying 'tis true, 'tis true' these days."

Lindsay made the transition from Wagner to "Seussical" this August. A member of Seattle Opera's "Ring" chorus, "my small claim to fame was that I got to hand Brunnhilde the torch to burn down the world at the very end," he said.

Now Lindsay is jumping as much as singing. With 11 performances of "Seussical" each week, Lindsay flings himself across the SCT stage in a blue wrestling suit and dark glasses. "The wrestling headgear (with padded ears) is really hard-this show has some tricky harmonies-and it does sound really different when you have cups over your ears. The cups have holes but it does mess with the sound," he said.

But monkeying around gives him many fun moments, Lindsay added. "Acting is such a cool job. I get to play for living."

At the heart of "Seussical" is Gertrude McFuzz's seemingly hopeless pursuit of the hapless Horton. A bird with only one tail feather, she gulps a few pills to grow out her tail, only to discover it ties her down more than she intended.

"I knew Gertrude from "Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories." That is one of those Seuss books that we read as kids. I still have this image in my mind of the picture when her tail is carried by all these other birds," said Hopkins. "I love her story and I love her heart. I'm having so much fun in the whole show. But the first time that I have a new tail and I get to play with it-that's one of my favorite moments."

It's also one that the audience always loves and Hopkins usually finds herself answering questions about her 40-foot tail during SCT's traditional Q&A sessions after the show. Many people want to know how she manages to drag it along behind her. "Except for the moment when you see how long my tail is, our dresser Cora is carrying around for me back stage, so I don't have to deal with the weight of it," Hopkins revealed.

For all the actors, the real delight of "Seussical" is how much the children believe in the characters that they portray.

"One thing I remember that our director talked about in rehearsals was how you can get audiences to invest in anything. In one of the previews, an egg looked like it was going to come out of nest. The whole audience gasped. They were that invested in a piece of felt and foam! They totally believed. It becomes real and that's something important about theater in general and this show," said Lindsay.

"Seussical" runs through Nov. 18 at SCT, 201 Thomas St. Performances are Fridays through Sundays and tickets range from $15 to $30. For more information, call 441-3322.

Rosemary Jones writes about arts and entertainment for the Capitol Hill Times. She can be reached at editor@capitolhilltimes.com.

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