NORTH CALDWELL, NJ — After being postponed for two days because of Wednesday’s snow storm, the Masquers of West Essex High School (WEHS) were finally able to present “Seussical the Musical” over the weekend and Monday night. The delay did not affect their performance, as someone in the audience said, “They nailed it.”
“The musical was wonderful,” one Fairfield resident said. “It was beyond a high school performance, and there’s no doubt there is a lot of talent here. They were impressive.”
Family, friends and residents filled the WEHS auditorium for the three days of the performance to support the cast and crew. All ages were present.
Some parents were worried that their young children would not be able to sit through the more than two-hour performance, but one parent said, “They did not even make a peep. The music and stage kept everyone entertained.”
George and Ann Kattermann of Montville came to see their friend’s son, Matthew Uhlendorf, play General Genghis Kahn Schmitz in the musical. The Kattermanns were not only impressed with Matthew’s performance, but were “impressed by all the talent.”
Fairfield residents, Frank, Laura and Lucia Matarazzo, came to see Nicholas Stampone as Horton the Elephant. The Matarazzos are long-time friends of Nicholas’ family and said that they “just could not miss the performance.”
“We chose Seussical for this year’s musical at West Essex for a few reasons,” said director/producer Brittany Miller. “We appreciated the family-friendly aspect of this show, particularly because it is based off of the works of Dr. Seuss. This show incorporates, in some form, about 10 of Dr. Seuss’ books. We also picked this show because it allowed a lot of creativity to come from the students, as well as from the directors.”
In the musical, the Cat in the Hat tells the story of Horton, an elephant who discovers a speck of dust that contains the Whos, including Jojo, a Who child, sent off to military school for thinking too many "thinks." Horton faces a double challenge. Not only must he protect the Whos from a world of naysayers and dangers, but he must also guard an abandoned egg, left in his care by the irresponsible Mayzie LaBird. Although Horton faces ridicule, danger, kidnapping and a trial, Gertrude McFuzz never loses faith in him. Ultimately, the powers of friendship, loyalty, family and community are challenged and emerge triumphant.
The musical challenges the audience to follow their hunches in the song, “Having a Hunch” and not to be afraid to think great “thinks” in “Oh, the Thinks You Can Think.”
Two important sayings in the musical come from Horton: “I meant what I said and I said what I meant. An elephant’s faithful one hundred percent.” and “A person’s a person no matter how small.”
It is a challenge to be faithful to the end, even to the smallest and weakest among them. The musical tells the audience that things could always could be worse, but to also remember “How Lucky We Are.”
The musical featured Paige Wasserman, a senior, as the Cat in the Hat. Wasserman said that she is “thrilled to be in her seventh and final Masquers production.”
In the fall, she will be pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in theater from Northwestern University and is also toying with the idea of becoming a teacher. She also performs at the Paper Mill Playhouse. Miller said Wasserman “is passionate about theater.”
Nicholas Stampone, a West Essex sophomore who played the part of Horton the Elephant, described his character as being kind and said, “Horton stands up for what he believes in, even though no one believes what he is saying. He is very persistent, and he does what is right.”
Stampone said that he is happy to be performing in his second production at West Essex and will be looking forward to the future. He also remarked that his favorite part of the production was seeing “when all the blocking and choreography came together.” He expressed that he was most excited about singing.
“I have a lot of singing to do this year, and I really love singing,” he said.
According to Miller, “Nicholas has been an absolute pleasure to work with.”
“He is dedicated to his craft and has proved it to the directors over and over again,” said Miller. “He serves as a strong and positive influence for his peers, and I look forward to working with him throughout the next two years.”
Grant King, a freshman, who played Jojo in his first show as a high school student, said he was extremely excited about it.
“I’m really excited to perform in front of my family and friends,” said King, who added that he could relate to Jojo because he is also very curious and likes to think out of the box. He explained that his favorite part of the musical is the way the cat is revealed.
“Jojo is very curious about everything, and it starts with how curious he is about the cat and how she is revealed,” he said.
Mr. Mayor, played by junior Teddy Press, said that he was most excited about the big dance numbers that included the entire cast.
“Usually, the most fun parts of the show are those great numbers where you get awesome harmonies and the music comes together,” said Press. “It’s just an amazing moment.”
One of the scenes that stood out for Press was the “Circus McGurkus” scene.
“We have a couple of people who are athletically talented who are performing amazing tricks on stage,” said Press. “Lily Patracuolla is a great dancer, and she is going to be doing backflips, back handsprings and walkovers. She’s just awesome.”
Press also said that it has “always been an awesome time for me as a member of Masquers to perform in front of a large crowd at West Essex.”
Sophomore Sofia Pastena, who played Cindy Lou Who, said that everyone is having a lot of fun playing different characters and being all together.
“We are all friends, and we always sing along to the music,” she said. “I really love the music from the show because it’s so upbeat. The leads do a great job, and they sound so good when they are singing them on stage.”
Miller said that there were about 40 students from all grade levels tried out for the musical this year.
Audience member and WEHS sophomore, Stephanie Salvato, said, “I think everyone worked hard and did a fantastic job.”
Christina Salvato, a WEHS ninth grader, said, “My friend, Samantha Haas was one of the monkeys, and she did a great job.”
Courtney Blount, a WEHS junior, said, “The play was great, and everyone did a fantastic job.”
Kailey Blount, Courtney’s twin sister, said, “I think the play was great and very creative. I used to read Dr. Seuss” books when I was little. ‘One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish’ was my favorite.”
Other comments from the audience came from Butch and Pat Lanzerotti, grandparents of Elaina and Michael Ragusa.
“The entire cast was excellent and are very talented,” they said. “They all are naturals. The orchestra pit was great and so was the crew.”
Dorata Piskorz and her daughter, Natalia, came to see Natalia’s friends.
“She loved the play and thought that it was amazing,” said Dorata. “They acted like professionals.”
When speaking of the cast, Miller said, the students worked hard for months to put together this production from all sides. She said the building and painting crews have spent a lot of time putting together the set and bringing Dr. Seuss’ characters to life, and the cast members spent hours every day in rehearsals.
“I am looking forward to putting everything together on stage,” she said prior to the show. “It’s exciting to see the students not only recall some of the more famous characters from Dr. Seuss but also get to be those characters on stage.”
She also spoke about some funny and unusual occurrences.
“The funniest moments have been watching the kids come into these very different characters on stage,” she said. “There are some very interesting events that take place throughout the plot of the show, and the students are having a wonderful time being as creative as possible with it.”
During the second performance on Saturday, Miller said the Cat in the Hat fell off of the conductor’s chair during the Entr’acte.
“At first, we thought it was part of her scene because she has fallen when walking up the stairs before,” said Miller. “But this was a complete accident.”
Miller, a Caldwell University graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and a minor in drama and theater, is certified in English and special education and currently teaches ninth and 10th grade English in the high school. This was her first year advising a theater program.
“I’ve performed in smaller shows in summer camps and wherever I could when I was younger,” said Miller. “When I was in college, I took performance classes for my minor. I have always been a fan of theater and the arts. My family started taking me to Broadway shows when I was about eight years old, and I still try to see at least two or three shows a year if I can.”
Miller said this year was very special for her “simply because it was [her] first year advising the Masquers program.” She said it was an honor to get to work with the students and have an opportunity to grow, and to learn new things about each other and about themselves.
“It is great getting to see the students show their creative sides when they are up on stage or at rehearsals,” said Miller.
All money raised from this production will go directly toward funding for future productions. In addition to purchasing supplies, equipment, costumes and props, the money that is raised also aids in purchasing materials needed to build the set.
“Our own Mr. Lee Oberg has been building sets for the musical for 30 years,” said Miller. “We try to do as much fundraising as we can throughout the year so that we are able to put on the spectacular performances you see before you.”
Other cast members of “Seussical the Musical” included:
Gertrude McFuzz – Ashley Thomas
The Grinch/Vlad Vladikoff – Marc Pelosi
Mayzie LaBird – Madelin Morales
Mrs. Mayor - Sarah Candido
Sour Kangaroo – Rebeca Hernandez
Thing #1 – Mia Servidio
Thing #2 - Blake Chamberlain
Wickersham Brothers – Victoria Catanzarite, Samantha Haas and Tristan Simson
Yertle the Turtle – Triston Simson
Young Kangaroo – Hannah Skelton
Birl Girls – Maddie Feldman, Amy Grunther, Liliana Patracuolla, Julia Schwartz, Paige Johnston, Ashley Bramucci, Kristen DeAngelis, Nicole Morgan, Elaina Ragusa and Amanda Sierra
Ensemble – Emma Gracen, Rebeca Hernandez, Rebecca Klein, Samantha Luk, Hannah Rhodes, Olivia Solomon, Serena Szarka, Ashley Thomas and Kaitlin Manley.