Darling Daughter has discovered the stage. She is in her first musical this spring and is having a ball. Ninety-four middle schoolers (with help from some wonderful teachers and staff, of course) are valiantly putting on Seussical. I say valiantly because it is a big project. It’s really a mini-opera—very few lines are not sung.
If you are not in the know (I wasn’t), Seussical is a musical by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. It is based entirely on an astonishing number of Dr. Seuss books. But you can follow the story if you’re familiar with Horton Hears a Who and Horton Hatches the Egg and have a working knowledge of The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham.
We have a deep and abiding love for musicals at our house, but this one was new to us. We knew it existed. We even knew the premise. But until our rising star brought home the CD so she could practice (and we could listen 24⁄7) we did not know the delight of this musical. Simply put, Seussical is a hoot. A romp. A treat. And perfect for middle school. Now that I’ve listened to it a few (hundred, thousand) times, I think I’ve figured out why. To be sure, the music is very fun, the staging and choreography opportunities are endless, and the on-stage craziness is perfect for middle school; but the real reason it’s so terrific and so appropriately staged in a middle school is the Dr. Seuss stories from which it draws. We read these stories to our middle schoolers when they were three and four, but they have certainly not outgrown the themes just because they’re now 11 to 13-year-olds.
To be honest, I’m not really a Dr. Seuss fan. Shocking, I know. Practically un-American. But reading Dr. Seuss stories can make my eyes cross. I want these books to be about 50 pages shorter than they are, and if they had fewer strings of tongue-tangling, made-up, rhyming words I’d be much more a fan, I think. HOWEVER, the Horton the Elephant stories are the exception to these crabby criticisms. Horton I love unconditionally. This kind, devoted, lumbering elephant who believes so deeply that “a person’s a person, no matter how small” makes my heart go pitter-pat.
I read Horton to both kids many times when they were little. I’ve read it to countless storytime groups of all ages since. Horton, well read, can hold the attention of babies, toddlers, pre-readers, tweeners and teeners, middle-aged adults and old folk. Horton speaks to our better selves. He is an elephant with an unshakeable sense of right and wrong. His noble protection of the vulnerable, his patience with sour kangaroos, his sense of duty even at his own personal expense, and the grace—sheer, gorgeous grace—he offers everyone at the end…. Sigh. I (heart) Horton! I have to steel myself so I don’t get all verklempt when I read him publicly.
This is what it boils down to, I think: What is middle school if not a large, sometimes frightening, Jungle of Nool? And who are our middle schoolers if not wild Jungle Creatures one day and Very Small Whos the next? And what a theme for those crazy middle years: Oh the Thinks You Can Think!
I’m grateful to Dr. Seuss and also Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty for their imagination. I’m grateful to the kids and adults in and around our middle school’s production who are bringing our community this musical. I know I’ll be verklempt when I see it all pulled together on stage next week. All those wiley middle schoolers—I mean Dr. Seuss characters—dancing and singing together. Does life get any better than this? I think not. Not for me, anyway.