Chatham Middle School will unlock the imaginations of audience members when they bring the Cat in the Hat, Horton the Elephant, Gertrude McFuzz, Mayzie La Bird, the Whos in Whoville and other Seuss favorites to life with their production of Seussical JR. Co-conceived by Lynn Ahrens, Stephen Flaherty and Eric Idle, Seussical JR. combines Dr. Seuss tales (…and tails!) using the plinker-plunker of many musical styles – ranging from Latin to pop, swing to gospel,and R&B to funk – as colorful as the classic books.

Seussical JR. begins with a young boy named JoJo, played by sixth-grader, Jonas Wilcox, who conjures up the Cat in the Hat with his powerful imagination and is whisked to the Jungle of Nool for a fantastical adventure.

“I love playing Jojo,” Wilcox said. “He is someone with a big imagination, and a little wild, which is really fun to play. I am really thankful and excited to be cast is such a great role in my first year at CMS.”

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Wilcox discovered his passion for acting through his love of music. He began his musical theater experience at Wharton School of Music summer camps. He then began to audition for community theater productions and landed his first role as a bundle boy in Pixie Dust Players production of Annie at the Union County PAC. Most recently, he played Big Tony in Roar at Broadway Boot Camp at the Chatham Playhouse.

Maddie Kaplan, an eighth-grader and three year CMS production performer, plays the Cat in the Hat. Kaplan has loved performing since an early age. She's acted, danced and sung her way through the Bickford Theater, the Temple Sinai stage, Elefante Music, and local nursing homes as well as made media appearances on NJ 12 and Good Morning America. She’s worked as stage manager for Summit Playhouse's production of "Madeline's Christmas", written
and directed three all-student theater productions, and has performed in Broadway Bootcamp musicals.

As JoJo and the Cat venture through the Jungle of Nool, JoJo learns of the plight of the tiny citizens of Whoville, who live on a planet the size of a speck of dust. Their sole protector is Horton the Elephant who is the only one with large and sensitive enough ears to hear them bipping and beeping and playing their oompahs. The small world is threatened by Sour Kangaroo and the Wickersham Brothers, who in disbelief that a world could be so small, try to steal the dust speck so they can cast it into a vat of Beezle-Nut oil. During all of this drama, Horton has not noticed that he has an admirer, Gertrude McFuzz. She blames his indifference on her one-feather short tail and endeavors to find a way to change her looks. Meanwhile, Horton’s friend, Mayzie La Bird, is bored of perching on her nest, and convinces the watchful elephant to sit on her egg so she can take a vacation. The Cat follows all of these storylines and finally casts the boy into his own as the irresponsible son of Mr. and Mrs. Mayor of Whoville, JoJo, who ultimately saves his whole tiny world with one big, imaginative “think.”

Charley Baird-Hassell, an eighth-grader, who plays Horton, is very happy to be returning to the stage for his third CMS production. His past performances at CMS include the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz and an Oompa Loompa in Willy Wonka. Some of his additional performances include the bumbling busboy in She Loves Me at The Summit Playhouse and Boy in the Street in A Christmas Carol at the Chatham Playhouse. He has also appeared in class productions of Aladdin as the Genie and Beauty and the Beast as Maurice. Additionally, Baird-Hassell has been a cast member of Chatham’s Broadway Boot Camp for the past five years.

Niamh O’Connor, an eighth-grader, who plays Sour Kangaroo, hails from a musical background and has been actively involved in music and dance since she was 4 years old. Since 2010 she has been enrolled in Anne Fattal’s Footnotes Dance Theatre where she has taken ballet, tap, jazz and now Musical Dance Theatre and the Olive Tree Music Academy where she takes piano, guitar and voice lessons under the expert tutelage of Evan C. Charpentier. She had the great privilege of performing in The Wizard of Oz last year at CMS and is truly honored to be chosen as The Sour Kangaroo in this year’s production of Seussical.

Gabby Neuner, an eighth-grader, who plays Gertrude McFuzz, was introduced to acting through Broadway Bootcamp 4 years ago. She has performed each summer since then in the Broadway Bootcamp original screenplays. Last year, she performed in the ensemble of the CMS production of The Wizard of Oz. She absolutely loves her role as Gertrude and is extremely grateful to have had this opportunity. She is so proud to be a part of this cast and truly appreciates all the hard work of the directors, producers and backstage crew to make Seussical Jr a success!

Evie Dittmann, an eighth-grader, who plays Mayzie La Bird, is no stranger to the tales of Dr. Seuss. Some of her other credits include Mrs. Mayor in the recent Pebble Players production of Seussical, as well as the ensembles of Frozen (Pixie Dust Players), Willy Wonka (CMS), and The Wizard of Oz (CMS), and two years of Broadway Bootcamp. What Evie loves most about theater is the sense of community. She loves the feeling and experience of putting together the show: all of the teamwork, hard work at rehearsals, and the magic of opening night.

The middle school is without a stage this year due to construction so rehearsals were primarily held in the cafeteria, which posed certain challenges. Jason Stiles, an eighth grade English teacher, in his third year directing the all-school production at CMS, stated “Seussical seemed like a good choice because of all the variables involved with the auditorium construction. We weren't really sure where we were going to end up performing and needed a show that was
highly adaptable-Seussical, being highly imaginative, seemed like the right fit”. Stiles also shared his appreciation for the support he has received from his choreographer, Jillian Brandt, the musical director, Kenneth Bryson, the district and the many helpful parents who have put in a lot of time and energy to assist with the musical. “Overall, I don’t think there could have been a better or more creative team going into this show” says Stiles.

James Lawrence, Supervisor of Performing Arts and Special Programs, has also been involved with the middle school production. “The move from the Middle School to the High School has been a huge challenge. I am fortunate that the Middle School has a great team in place, in addition to an extremely supportive Principal that worked with us to provide alternative rehearsal space and helped to plan the move. To add to that support, we have an overwhelming amount of help from a strong parent community who are equally invested in providing our students with the tools to put on an incredible show. Everyone's understanding and flexibility has been invaluable in what is certainly a challenging endeavor.”

Tickets to the show are available at the Middle School main office. Parents may buy tickets from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. and 1 to 3 p.m. Students may buy them during lunch the week of the performance. Tickets cost $10 for adults and $5 for students and kids. They will also be sold starting 45 minutes before each performance. Performances are at the Chatham High School Auditorium at 6 p.m. Thursday, January 30th, 7 p.m. Friday, January 31st, and 7 p.m. on
Saturday, February 1st. The snow date is Sunday, February 2nd at 2:30 p.m.