'Seussical Jr.' takes the stage at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind

Not much makes kids happier than the Cat in the Hat, Horton the Elephant, Gertrude McFuzz and the Whos in Whoville. These beloved Dr. Seuss character will come alive when Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind Students take the stage at 1:30 p.m. Thursday at the Wilson Memorial Music Building, 207 San Marco Ave. 

 

FSDB’s production will feature more than 50 students playing a wide range of favorite Dr. Seuss characters in “Seussical Jr.,” a musical by Tony Award-winning writers Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. The production is full of colorful costumes, and songs ranging in genre from Latin and pop to swing and funk. 

Admission to the show is free, and audience members will need to show their ID at FSDB’s front gate. Arrive early for parking and seating. 

Compass caught up with Leslie Costello, the school’s music director, to learn a bit more about the performance and how the students have prepared for the show. Here’s part of that conversation. 

Compass: How did it come about that the students would be doing “Seussical Jr.?” 

Leslie Costello: I began the elementary music theater program 12 years ago. It started out very small, with only 12 students performing “Aesop’s Fables.” It has grown through the years with our 10th anniversary production being “The Little Mermaid Jr.” This year, I looked at the musicals available for licensing and paired them up with the level of our students, and “Seussical Jr.” was the winner. I selected it primarily because it is more of an ensemble piece, and we have a relatively young, inexperienced group. So I was hopeful that the familiarity of the stories and the rhyming nature of the script would be helpful. The whimsical, colorful and happy nature of Dr. Seuss was also a factor.
Compass: How have the kids been preparing?
L.C.: I did all of the production work beginning in October — such as selecting the show, obtaining the license and translating the script into Braille. Students are expected to work on memorization of their scripts at home, and parents, as well as dorm parents, are provided with a print copy of the script to work together. Classroom teachers are also provided with group song lists, so the students can listen to the music as a class. 

Compass: Tell me a bit about the kids involved in the play. 

L.C.: Our entire cast of 51 students are blind or significantly visually impaired. Many also have other disabilities. The students are in kindergarten through 5th grade. Their only theater background is what they receive here at FSDB. Some have been involved in the program for their sixth year now, having started in kindergarten. For most, it is their first time on stage. That is so exciting to me. The enthusiasm they have is unparalleled. Most of these students wouldn’t even be participating in a school production in their mainstream school. Or if they were, they would be relegated to a standing tree. Here at FSDB, they have the lead roles, and we’re really starting to see students blossom. We’ve been doing this long enough to see the impact that it has on students years down the road. It certainly helps with bringing the best out of our students and working on all of the things that a school musical should do — self-confidence, teamwork, creative thinking, self-awareness, public speaking and, particularly for our students, spatial awareness. 

Compass: What obstacles did you face in putting together the musical? 

L.C.: Time. There is never enough time — especially considering all of my other responsibilities during the day. Thankfully, we are fortunate to have grant funding available from The Florida Schools for the Deaf and the Blind, so money is not a huge obstacle. Teachers and administration are also very supportive. 

Compass: Have you always been a big fan of Dr. Seuss? 

L.C.: Honestly, I was not a fan of Dr. Seuss. I never appreciated all of the made-up words or the fantastical nature of his stories. But I can honestly say that, after working on this play, I now have a great appreciation of him and see the many life lessons he incorporated. He’s a genius. 

Seussical Kids will take the stage on Thursday, May 25th at 1:30 p.m. at Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind’s Wilson Memorial Music Building, 207 San Marco Ave. Admission is free. Please bring your ID for the front gate and arrive early for parking and seating. 

 

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