(March 4, 2008)

Thinking Seussical Thinks

Peter D. Kramer/The Journal News

The characters are familiar: Horton, The Grinch, The Cat in The Hat, Thing One, Thing Two.

The music is upbeat and unapologetically sentimental, by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens.

The costumes are colorful: A hat with red and white stripes.

It’s the world of “Seussical,” which will be presented at Albertus Magnus High School in Bardonia this weekend.

But sometimes, on the way to Opening Night, a director needs to put on the brakes and have his cast shake things out a bit and get to what’s behind the lines they’ve learned.

That’s what Albertus Magnus director Nathan Mello did when his principal actors arrived to work on their characters on Presidents Day.

“They don’t really get a chance to think about who they are,” Mello says.

There they were, gathered in a circle in the hall between the cafeteria and the gym that doubles as their auditorium.

And there was Mello, firing questions, probing, asking them to dig to what was beneath the lines they’ve all rehearsed for weeks.

To improve, sometimes you have to improv.

John Nico, 17, a senior, plays Horton. When it is his turn in the circle, the actor – who knows that his character is shy, neurotic, but brave – lashes out at the others, in mock disgust.

“You’re all jerks!” he says, then softens. “At the end, you guys redeem yourselves.”

Then he turns on Emily Rellis, a senior who plays the diva Mayzie LaBird, she of the magnificent plumage. In “Seussical,” Mayzie tricks Horton into watching her egg while she goes off to have fun.

Nico rails: “I thought she was going to be gone for an hour or two, but it was a year!”

Rellis, true to her diva, self-absorbed character, launches into a defense of her actions.

“I don’t like sitting,” she says. “I see Horton with a flower…”

“It’s a clover,” Nico snaps.

“It’s a FLOWER!” barks Rellis, ending the argument.

And the circle erupts in laughter.

It might seem like nothing, but that little exchange, Mello says, is a sign that these actors understand the nature of their relationship, who they are and how they treat each other.

If Rellis didn’t have the last word, she wouldn’t be the diva she’s supposed to be.

Then it’s Kelsea Dineen’s turn. She plays Gertrude McFuzz, a bird with just one tail feather.

Gertrude spends much of the show trying to get Horton, whom she loves, to notice her. She even sings a song, “Notice Me, Horton.”

“Why doesn’t Horton notice you,” Mello asks Dineen.

“It might be the tail thing,” she wonders aloud. “I don’t seem to have a lot of friends in the jungle.”

“So you’re just trying to make friends?” Mello asks. “Do you think if your tail is longer, you’ll make friends?”

“Mayzie has a lot of friends,” Dineen says.

“You know it,” says Rellis.

And the circle erupts again.