Flamboyant characters step out of the hat

A trio of monkeys, one with a pierced lip, kicking up a storm.

Big-voiced Sour Kangaroo testing her moves.

Styrofoam-headgear-toting Whos gallivanting with instruments made from PVC pipe, toilet plungers and badminton birdies.

It's high school, so the hoopla continues.

Pretzels, hugs and mismatched socks have all played a part in "Seussical the Musical."

Edison High School's annual production will debut Friday evening, with two performances slated for Saturday. After rehearsing at least three times a week since January, the 34-person cast will take the stage at Huntington Beach High School Auditorium, with the help of almost as many parent volunteers.

Once under the spotlight, the actors will add a unique spin to the story of Horton the elephant, who was shunned by jungle animals upon the revelation that he could hear the voices of a boy named Jojo and the entire planet of Whoville emanating from a speck of dust on a clover. Fellow protagonist the Cat in the Hat stirs up trouble using Jojo's imagination, constructing debacles starring Mayzie La Bird and her giant freckled egg, Circus McGurkus, and others.

By her own admission, Elisabeth Mullins is a "girly-girl" who loves cute dresses. When the 18-year-old Huntington Beach resident, now referred to as "Mayzie" on- and off-stage, first donned her bright-pink sequined costume, she thought, "Oh, my!"

"To really grab the audience and get into it, you have to stop being yourself and prove that you can live through, and as, your character," said Mullins, 18, who plays the role of a flamboyant bird, who is perpetually bored.

Mullins and her best friend, Paige Schneider, fellow actors at Edison and the Huntington Beach Academy for the Performing Arts, pray before stepping on stage. They come together for strength, and of course, to not forget their lines.

"Before every show, I'm in the wings going, 'Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god,' shaking, and freaking out," Mullins said amid a flurry of cascading feathers. "But the minute the music comes on, I'm like, 'Daaaaaa!' Even my family asks, 'Who is that?'"

Stage Director Diane Christensen recalled a conversation with an athlete's mother about her son's on-stage discovery of hidden talents, and in turn, himself.

"[She] had been on the sidelines, at practices and games, since her son was 5 years old," Christensen said. "As a performer in a high school play, she watched his confidence grow more in six weeks than in all the years of team sports. Each Edison student deserves the opportunity to be part of a project that provides growth in the arts and in self-esteem. The cast becomes a family as they create something unique that is enjoyed and applauded by hundreds."

Since the all-school musical theater program launched in 2007, Edison has produced a show, including "Bye Bye Birdie" and "Guys and Dolls," every year.

On Dec. 11 and 12, students learned a short dance and entered the audition room five at a time. After singing a song of their own choice, they performed the routine as a group. Evaluated on the basis of vocal strength, interpretive readings, personality and "daring to put oneself out there," callbacks were arranged for the second round. After they read and sang for specific roles, the group was whittled down to the final performers.

"Seussical the Musical" was Ernesto Ruiz-Joya's second time singing in public. Until recently, the fear of rejection had forced the 17-year-old senior to keep his vocal skills under wraps.

"I've been scared of hearing that I'm not good enough, which would hurt," said Ernesto, who attended last week's two-and-a-half hour rehearsal despite struggling with an acute allergy. "But this year, I decided to try out for the choir, and lo and behold, I made it to honors choir. I tried out for this musical, and I got the lead."

According to Christensen, each take on "Seussical the Musical" is based on the "open interpretation of set designs, costumes and choreography."

At Edison, a top priority is the believability of Dr. Seuss’ imaginary world. The script also lent itself to a collaboration with the school’s dance team, led by coach Clara D’Autilia. 

Brooke Borns, 18, believes she was born singing and hasn't paused since. A familiar face at school musicals who yearns to one day play "Fantine" in "Les Miserables," she draws inspiration from the joy shared between herself and the audience.

"It's an oxymoron — I'm kind of shy around people, but I love getting on stage to help the audience forget about their problems for a while," said Borns, a.k.a the one-feather-tailed Gertrude McFuzz, an insecure bird who loves Horton and is the only one who believes him. "When you find that one thing in life that you are so passionate about, just getting to do it every chance you get is amazing."

A long-time fan of Lea Salonga, Meryl Streep and Sutton Foster, Borns has not only found a family within Edison's choir and acting troupe, but also learned about life and human nature by experimenting with different roles, she said.

The singer of Dr. Seuss' famous phrase, "A person's a person, no matter how small," Ernesto has drawn parallels between his experience in "Seussical the Musical" and life, learning the importance of seeing responsibilities through till the end.

"I've learned that I have to try and find a balance in my life," he said. "And whatever I do have going on, I need to finish, because that's what Horton did. He said, 'Yes,' and stood by it."


Twitter: @RMahbubani

If You Go

What: Seussical the Musical

Where: Huntington Beach High School Auditorium, 1905 Main St., Huntington Beach

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, 2:30 p.m and 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Cost: $12 for adults; $8 for students and children

Information: Edison High School at http://www.edisonchargers.com or (714) 962-1356

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