If you never knew the you that was you
who read Doctor Seuss as you grew and you grew
then you might be confused by my style all the while
I write this preview without guile but a smile
From within my chair that sits over there
In what would be fair to be called a lair
Where I sit and I write and I share with some care
What I know about plays from all of my days
Asking directors their ways navigating the maze
Of making art with a heart for Urbana to see
Their children performing lines and songs with glee --
Katie Odom has graciously answered for me
On behalf of the U P D Y S T.
Okay, I can't keep that up for long, although I have been practicing on unsuspecting social media outlets. Seussical the Musical is written by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, made up of vignettes based on most of the major works of Dr. Seuss — from his first-published And to Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street! to his last Oh! the Places You'll Go. Emcee Cat in the Hat has been played by both men and women, most notably Eric Idle and Andrea Martin, and guides a young "boy" through the stories, most often coming back to the trials of Horton the Elephant.
SP: The last time we talked was before last year's production of Willy Wonka, also a UPDYST production. What made you decide to come back for more?
Katie Odom: When Willy Wonka closed last summer and Erica asked me if I would be interested in coming back this year, there was absolutely no hesitation. I have been a proud member of this program for 17 years and it has truly been an honor to take on this role the past couple years now. I owe this program quite a bit from giving me my first chance to experience theater, as well as these young performers for giving me the added direction I truly needed for where my next step is going to take me. This program and these kids are absolutely a joy to work with and it been my pleasure to work with them these past couple years. I've got some big plans in store for this program.
SP: What have you been doing in the meantime (artistically)?
Odom: In the meantime, this past spring I graduated from the University of Illinois with my BFA in Theater Studies, focusing on directing and production management. Through this program and my work at Krannert, I have ultimately decided to continue my education toward a Master's Degree with the added intention of pursuing a teaching certificate. So really just keeping busy.
SP: Last year, you spoke about the necessity of giving kids invaluable lifeskills through their participation in theatre (punctuality, confidence, etc) What's been one of your favorite success stories, seeing the kids grow between two years?
Odom: Getting to see the growth these kids have had from last year to this year has been astounding. For example, one of our young ladies playing Jojo - this is her first major role - I remember her first production with this program. She was shy and reserved but adorable nonetheless. Last year we saw some of her growth in her acting abilities, but it was during her audition that we were absolutely blown away with her voice and her confidence. And she is far from the only one. It's been extremely rewarding seeing the growth that exists in this program and I'm happy to even just get the chance to help guide their talents.
SP: Did any of your other creative team (Noah Scott Larson or Margot Valentine) return this year? If not, who are your cohorts in 2017?
Odom: Noah is back as my right-hand-man once again this year, and I'm grateful for that! However we are joined this year by two AMAZING choreographers, Kitty Schwartz (a fellow alumn of the program) and Raynah Unes-Reid. The rest of our production staff are made up primarily of the talented folks from last year, but we were luckily joined by Sara Jones (Scenic Design), Sara Jahn (Paint Charge), and Cindy Adamek (Props Design). I am very lucky to be joined by this team and very grateful to them for all of their work.
SP: I see you've cast the character usually called "Boy" as "Child" and have two stellar girls cast in the role. The Cat's role. Have you found any creative differences (either with the script or the actors) due to this decision?
Odom: To be honest it wasn't difficult at all. Once we were able to get everyone to change the pronouns, it really wasn't that hard to adjust - and actually led to some comical moments.
SP: Was there a conscious choice to award this lead to a girl, since the other two leads are often boys, or did it just so happen that way?
Odom: It really was just a choice that Noah and I found ourselves making as it came. We are firm believers in the simple rule of giving roles to those who we feel deserve and have earned them, based on their audition. These girls (Willow Weisman and Veronica Bechtel) were no exception based on their talent - and since the casting they have not once disappointed us. It was the same situation when it came to casting a girl in the role of the Cat in the Hat (Alex Adamek) - we were lucky enough to have some extremely talented young ladies this year.
SP: What else should our readers know about your production of Seussical?
Odom: It's a beautiful story of acceptance and love in the face of adversity - a story I believe many, if not all, will connect to. These performers have been working so hard and I'm extremely proud of their growth. I hope all those who love Dr. Seuss and his crazy tales choose to come [as well as] those who enjoy live theater. No matter what, you will not be disappointed, and I only ask that whether you attend this production or not, you continue support the art in this community and what this program does for the youth we have the pleasure to work with!
Seussical the Musical is a production of the Urbana Park District Youth Summer Theatre and will be staged in the Harold and Jean Miner Theatre at Parkland College this Thursday through Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets cost $14 for adults, discounted for students, seniors and youth, and are available online or by calling 1-866-967-8167, or in person at the Phillips Recreation Center.