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Stepping up for Seuss: BHS theater department to present ‘Seussical the Musical’

Jonah Fuhrman, playing Horton, rehearses a song for Bemidji High School's production of "Seussical the Musical" on Thursday at BHS. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)\1 / 4
Heather Werlein, center, ends a song at rehearsal for Bemidji High School's production of "Seussical the Musical" on Thursday at BHS. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)2 / 4
Ashlyn Nelson and David Caliri practice a scene on Thursday for Bemidji High School's production of "Seussical the Musical" at BHS. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)3 / 4
Elise Fladeboe is lifted in the air during rehearsal on Thursday for Bemidji High School's production of "Seussical the Musical" at BHS. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)4 / 4

BEMIDJI—Like a sports team that lost most of its stars to graduation, the Bemidji High School theater department is in sort of a rebuilding year. But director Holly Nelson has been truly impressed with the cast members who will bring "Seussical the Musical" to the stage this week.

"We graduated the majority of the kids who had larger role experience," Nelson said. "Although we have a lot of talented returning kids, it's students who had not done sizeable roles. So when we chose this play, we had a lot of incoming ninth graders that we don't know and hadn't worked with. We opted for an ensemble show so that we can offer a lot of roles and we have an opportunity to see how kids take direction and how are they going to develop their character. That's kind of exciting for us as a directing staff."

There are 43 students in the cast, with another 24 in the orchestra and 20 on the technical and stage crew. The cast was selected in May, and rehearsals began in late August.

"The kids make a huge commitment," Nelson said. "The amount of hours is staggering."

Two of the leaders who have emerged are senior Xavier Michel-Youn and junior Britta Aas. Michel-Young plays The Cat in the Hat and Aas plays Gertrude McFuzz.

Michel-Young, who caught the acting bug as a fourth grader in Oklahoma, moved to Bemidji last year and was in the choir for the fall musical, "The Hunchback of Notre Dame."

"They a lot of male vocals," he said. "Holly Nelson heard me singing in the hallway one day, singing Coldplay of all things, and she was like, 'I need you to be in the choir in the show.'

"Xavier has been in other casts," Nelson said, "but he's not had a big role before, and he came back to us in August knowing 90 percent of his lines and music. He had just really taken it upon himself to develop that role."

The will be the fourth musical for Aas, who relished the role of a veteran.

"We have such a young energetic cast this year," Aas said. "There's so much good energy coming in. Everyone's so supportive. In past years we had so many older people. So now to step up as one of the older people is crazy for me, but we're definitely very close."

She also finds inspiration from her character.

"(Gertrude is) very spunky, she's insecure, but she finds her way through the story to kind of gain that confidence and put herself out there," Aas said. "I think that's really cool because it's important for young people to see, getting out of their comfort zones and really being themselves."

Nelson is pleased with the way the cast has come together.

"What has surprised me the most is some of the creativity and independence," she said. "This is a really neat group of kids. One of the privileges that we as staff have is watching kids develop not only through a season but over time."

Noah Paulson, a junior who plays JoJo, has never been in a play before. "So it's a big role for him," Nelson sai, "He certainly demonstrated plenty of talent in his audition, but you always kind of sit back and wait and see, OK, where can you get someone to go. Watching him emerge has been fun."

Ashlyn Nelson and David Caliri practice a scene on Thursday for Bemidji High School's production of "Seussical the Musical."Jonah Fuhrman, a junior veteran who plays Horton the Elephant, is taking a larger role this year. "Jonah has been a delight to work with," Nelson said. "He started his eighth grade year with us. He's always done a nice job for me, but we're pushing him a little bit outside of his comfort zone, so he's working very hard and doing a fantastic job."

Elise Fladeboe, a senior who plays Lazy Mayzie, also has impressed the director. "I've asked her to play a character that is so far from who she is," Nelson said. "It's been fun to watch that."

The show's dance captains—seniors Ashlyn Nelson and Noah Anderson—have taken on leadership roles in "Seussical."

"When Ashlyn auditioned coming into her ninth grade year, she was in a place where she couldn't even sing in a room by herself," Nelson said. "And she's got a solo in this show. Noah also has a solo in this show. He has an absolutely delightful voice now that he's learned how to use it."

Even though this play is based on children's books, Nelson said it's one that all ages will enjoy.

"You might think that it is just a kids show," she said, "but as we well know Dr. Seuss is a fantastic philosopher. So the overarching theme of a person is a person, no matter how small, could not be more relevant to our ... nation's story right now. The fact that it's doing that in the realm of kind of cartoon-like and the music is really fun music. It's not a show that's just for children."

Aas believes "Seussical" has the potential to get younger people excited about the theater program.

"I really hope that people just get their imaginations going," she said. "It's definitely a show for children and families. We haven't exactly had that the last couple of years, so the fact that I get to maybe inspire someone to join theater when they get to high school is so cool for me."

If you go

What: "Seussical the Musical"

When: Thursday through Saturday, Nov. 1-3. Shows at 7 p.m., plus a Saturday matinee at 1:30 p.m. (ASL interpretation available at matinee).

Where: Bemidji High School Auditorium

Tickets: $7 adults, $4 for students or children, available at or at the door.