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Horton hears a Hoot: Hannah King on Seussical

Published: November 10, 2006
Section: Arts, Etc.

In the waning days of Seussicals rehearsal period, director Hannah King 08 took a few minutes to talk with The Hoot about her soon-to-open show.

Hoot: What drew you to wanting to direct this show?

Hannah King: Originally, I had it in my head as something completely different than it is. I had never seen it, I didnt really know anything about it, then I saw a production that was very well-done. As a musical, I think its very well-written;

I think the music is beautiful and I think its fun, its not boring. Also, the concept of the show is very different. It comes from a childrens book, its not just a typical love story. A lot of stuff comes from movies like High Fidelity, also rock shows, that seems to be the trend in musicals right now, but Seussical is completely different from that. Its Seussical the musical;

it rhymes, its light, its silly, but Dr. Seuss books have that whole other layer of social commentary, which theatre needs. Dr. Seuss in general is very intriguing, because he manages, in so few words with this very basic childrens concept, to say very poignant things. That really translates through the show. The simple plotlines are that somebody has body image issues and she basically gets plastic surgery, she takes pills to make her tail grow, because she wants to get the attention of her love interest, who is Horton. Horton believes in this entire other world of people that no one else believes in. So, theres a lot of issues going on there that are really easy to work with from a theatrical point of view, that translate really well onstage and that are just very heart-wrenching to watch. Its a very well-made show.

Hoot: Dr. Seuss wrote a lot of books. Could you give us a little idea how they are brought together to form a coherent single story?

HK: There are many references to Dr. Seuss stories, there are many Dr. Seuss stories;

however, the main plot line centers around Horton from Horton Hears a Who. Horton is in the jungle, then there are a bunch of stories about the Whos in their own little land. Horton Hears a Who is the story of him trying to save their tiny people who live on a dust speck. In the jungle with Horton there are Gertrude and Maisy, who are both birds. Maisy gets knocked up in a one-night stand, has an illegitimate egg and gets Horton to sit on the egg, so Hortons stuck on this nest. Theres also Gertrude, who ends up helping Horton. She has a big crush on Horton, but she has a small tail and thinks he doesnt notice her because she has a small tail. Basically, it all centers on Horton and he ties all these things together. Meanwhile, the Planet of Who has its own problems. Horton talks to a Who named Jojo. Theyre kind of the two pariahs on their planets. Jojo has this great imagination that his parents dont understand, so he gets sent away and no one understands him on his planet, and no one understands Horton because Horton hears this tiny land of people and no one understands him, but they can understand each other.

Hoot: The original production of Seussical was not a success. Why do you think this was and how are you trying to avoid those problems it might pose?

HK: The original production on Broadway did a very high-budget, very literal Dr. Seuss interpretation: Goofy costumes, goofy sets, aimed-at-kids. The show has evolved a little bit as shows do on Broadway. By the time of the national tour, the show had evolved toward where it is now. The national tour was very successful and it has been done regionally a lot lately. I dont think its a good idea to go so literal and so puppet-like because the negative assumptions that you bring with Dr. Seuss, that its goofy and its just for kids and its going to be way too over-the-top, make playing to the built-in negative aspects of the show a poor choice. I think the value of this show is that there is more to it than that. In terms of design, Im taking a much more low-key look at things, which I think is what I have to do in a university setting. The actors have a base costume, all black, mostly their own clothes The costumes are simple, down-to-earth. The story and the characters and the themes of the show are adult, mature, cathartic, all those great things we expect out of a show. The Dr. Seuss stuff comes through in a great fun way;

it doesnt need to be played up.

Hoot: You have a big cast for this show. Would you like to tell us a little bit about working with them?

HK: My cast is wonderful. I like working with big casts, I think the advantage is that with a cast five times as big you get five times the energy, and they feed off each other, and you get this wonderful cast bonding experience that translates onstage really well. You can tell when a cast enjoys being around each other, and luckily, my cast does. I wish I could take credit for that, but its really just a matter of the mix of people that ended up being in the show. Theyre amazing. All of our leads are great, and theres no weak link in my cast. Everyone knows that and theyve all worked extremely hard. There arent really leads so much as there are people who sing songs by themselves. Its an incredibly talented cast;

I teach them something, they go home, come back the next day, and do it for me. Its amazing, surprising. My design team and prod staff are also great. This is a big show and Im a very demanding person, and I have lots of ideas that couldnt get done unless I had this kind of dedicated commitment to the show. What you see is as much as I could give people to do, as much as people said, Okay, Hannah, Ill do these crazy things you want me to do. Thats really what has happened every step along the way.

Hoot: What shows have you seen at Brandeis this semester that you really enjoyed and are there any upcoming shows youre really looking forward to?

HK: I was really pleased about The Laramie Projects set. It sort of resembles the structure were using, but I really like that structure and I was really happy to see it work, and get to see it as a trial run before my show. Im a big fan of unit sets, anything that doesnt move around;

I think its distracting, especially on the Shapiro stage. I think its much stronger if you have a minimalist set that doesnt detract from your other theatrical elements, and I thought Laramie really chose wisely in the way they staged their show and the way they used the set. Also, its a strong show to choose;

its a strong script, its a really powerful story. I think the actors did an amazing job – I was very impressed by Laramie. I think the UTC season in general is very strong. The shows that were chosen, the directors working on them, everyone is very dedicated and I really like the collaboration going on between the shows.

Hoot: Quickly, we need the vital informationdates, times, tickets, location.

HK: Seussical will be performed in the Shapiro Theater with 8 p.m. shows on Thursday, Nov. 9, Friday, Nov. 10, and Saturday, Nov. 11, as well as 2 p.m. matinees on the Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 12. Tickets are $5 in advance (available during lunch Friday in Usdan) or for $6 at the door. Come see the show!