Seussical Jr.

During a recent Limelight Theatre rehearsal for the upcoming production of “Seussical Jr.,” a number of the Mesa and Mesa thespians embraced their roles as 1) director Emma England observed. They included 2) Keith Varty, 12, of Mesa and Emily Colmenero, 11, of Chandler; 3) Samantha Springer, 9, of Mesa; 4) Janelle Frazer, 8, of Chandler; and 5) William Lowell, 12, of Mesa and Audra South, 7, of Gilbert, (Pablo Robles/Tribune Staff Photographer)

With only a week to go before Gilbert’s Limelight Performing Arts Theatre presents “Seussical Jr.,” Emma England admits, “The pressure’s on.”

It’s not the usual pre-production jitters for the seasoned director.

It’s a matter of whether she and her talented cast of children and teens can take the AriZoni Awards by storm again.

In 2014, the last time the Limelight presented “Seussical Jr.,” its production picked up AriZonis for overall production, choreography, music direction, makeup, lighting and actress in a leading role.

England has made few changes to the presentation, although some costumes had to be redone because costumes worn by the 2014 production’s actors and actresses didn’t fit the new ones.

“Obviously, once we’ve done the show, when we do it again, we kind of upgrade it, if you will,” England said. “So, we pulled out all the costumes. I mean, obviously some of the actors didn’t fit into the original costumes. That wasn’t a stipulation when we cast it. We didn’t say, you know, ‘you have to fit the costume.’ So, we did have to start from scratch on a couple of costumes that were either too big or too small. Then there were other costumes that we just wanted to do a little something extra with, kind of spice them up.”

 “Our set is almost identical to last time, but we have added more of a playground element to it,” she added. 

“So, we actually have a swing set, a full size slide and a full sized trampoline that’s part of the set. So those were added new this time.  Other than that, it’s pretty much the exact same set from last time.”

Awards aren’t behind her selection of the beloved musical, which will play at Mesa Arts Center Aug. 15-25 with two special showings featuring the understudies at 2 p.m. Aug. 18 and 6:30 p.m. Aug. 22, at the Limelight, 511 W. Guadalupe Road, Gilbert.

The musical features Horton the Elephant, the Cat in the Hat and the other beloved characters from Dr. Seuss’s tale of the powers of friendship, loyalty, family and community.

England said she picked it “because it has such a wonderful story about accepting and being who you are.”

“It really resonates with what’s going on in society today,” she added. “I feel like it’s a story that everyone can relate to and the music is amazing.”

She said she likes the story about characters who “each kind of are told that they’re not good enough, but they go and they try to blend in and they tried to be good. But then eventually they realize that being themselves is what is what they should be excited about. I think that that’s a great topic for today.”

Her selection mirrors the Limelight’s mission “to provide meaningful and artistic experiences that build character and confidence, and give students the building blocks to pursue a career in the performing arts.”

The cast of about 25 includes England’s two children — 3-year-old Dominic, making his stage debut, and 5-year-old Gabriella.

“She loves performing,” England said of her daughter, who played the elephant bird in 2014 when she was just 9 months old. That role this time around goes to her younger brother.

England calls “Seussical Jr.” a “really unique” production in that the set stays in one place for the entire show.

“There aren’t big scene changes that we would have with another musical, where you’ve got that piece just moving on and off. So, really this show is just all done by the cast. We have parents backstage helping with costume changes because there are several costume changes within the show. So instead of having a backstage full of set pieces, we actually have individual stations for kids to do their costume changes.”

As for the two shows at the Limelight featuring understudies, England said “we like to give as many kids the opportunity to fill a big part as possible.”

“We think that they invest more into the part of being an understudy when they know that they’re going to have the opportunity to perform it on stage,” she said, calling it a reward as well for the hard work they put into the production.

The shows at Mesa Arts Center’s Nesbitt/Elliott Playhouse” are at various times and they and tickets are available at mesaartscenter.com. Tickets for the two shows featuring understudies can be purchase at limelightyouththeater.com.

Mesa cast members include: McKenna Henry, 11; Hailey Laidig, 12; Abigail Lovell, 10; David Lovell, 6; Elliot Lovell, 8; William Lovell, 12; Savannah Springer, 9; and Keith Varty, 12.

Chandler actors and actresses include: Cole Blubaum, 11; Emily Colmenero, 11; Kaylee Delgado, 10; Kaylee Forth, 9; Janelle Frazier, 8; Ivy Moore, 13; and Libby Carr, 16.

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