BWW Interviews: The Grahams Make Growing Stage's SEUSSICAL a Family Affair

By: Mar. 15, 2012
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The Growing Stage's current production of the popular musical SEUSSICAL is special in more ways than one. For the Graham family it is truly a family event, with Mom, Maggie Graham starring as Mayzie La Bird, Dad, actor Steve Graham, playing The Cat in the Hat, and kids Amelia and Ethan featured as citizens of Whoville. And if that weren't enough of a family affair, Maggie's brother-in-law is Broadway vet Kevin Chamberlain who was the original Horton the Elephant in the show's Broadway production!

With music and lyrics by Tony award winners Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, SEUSSICAL centers around Horton the Elephant, who finds himself faced with a double challenge - not only must he protect his tiny friend Jojo, and all the invisible citizens of Whoville from a world of naysayers and dangers, but he must guard an abandoned egg, left to his care by the irresponsible Mayzie La Bird.

The show marks Maggie Graham's eighth show at The Growing Stage. Her past roles have included Queen Zurline in The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, Mother Cat in Busytown, The Cat in Peter and the Wolf, Mrs. Primm in Lyle the Crocodile and Morgana in Sleeping Beauty. The talented actress has also apeared at Joe's Pub and The Triad NYC as well as the MTV animated series Spy Groove.

Steve Graham currently serves as the Production Manager for TGS. His past roles include The Wolf in Peter & the Wolf, Hector P. Valenti in Lyle the Crocodile, Frog in A Year With Frog & Toad and Archibald Craven in The Secret Garden.

BWW had a chance to speak with the talentEd Graham family and ask them about their "thinks" on what makes Seussical one of the most beloved musicals in American theater history.

What do you think it is about Seussical that makes it so special?

MG: For me personally it’s the parent/child relationship. It’s such a special show because of the way it brings us together and in our case literally. We all love Seuss and this amalgam of so many of his wonderful books is the perfect way to revel as child with a child. 

SG: Dr. Seuss achieved one of those rare accomplishments in American culture; he found that fantastic world of the ageless. He was able to unveil some of those timeless “truths” and “questions” that we all ponder; whether we are 7 or 70. In a country where so much emphasis is placed on the importance of “family”, I guess it is no wonder that an artist who found that “common ground” between the generations has continued to maintain such popularity.

What do you think theatergoers will enjoy most about this particular production?

MG: This is an amazing ensemble cast! Teamed with some of the most colorful and Seussian costumes and sets it’s easy to feel transported to the Jungle of Nool or Whoville.

SG: In all fairness to the production, I would have to name two elements. I think that the cast in this show is an energetic and mesmerizing whirlwind of talent! I am so fortunate to be part of such an animated and harmonious group of artists. We are all approaching this production with a sense of wonder and movement and excitement. Further, the scenic design by resident artist Perry Arthur Kroeger is absolutely breathtaking. I think that The Growing Stage has one of the state’s finest artists in Kroeger.

Seussical touches on the themes of bullying and racism. Do you think Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty intentionally meant to include this message? 

MG: Absolutely, I think Ahrens and Flaherty have done an incredible job of blending Dr. Seuss’ stories while staying true to his intentions. Dr. Seuss’ work touched on these themes, and more, in a most natural way, without preaching, his message is teaching and reaching audiences when young and the message rings true as an adult too. I believe they paid great homage to him with Seussical. The popularity of the show is a clear representation of its efficacy.

SG: Dr. Suess is wonderful because many of the themes of his books are very reflective of the human experience. His ability to express both the positive and negative, in such a fantastical way (and yet still appeal to all ages) is one of the talents that makes him so unique. I think to inject some of those more serious themes and messages into a musical based on his work would not only have to be intentional, but, in fact, quite necessary.

Do you see similarities between your character's personalities and your own?

MG: Oh dear, as a mother I should say not! Yet as a performer, it’s a great fit! Mayzie is a glamour queen. All she cares about are looks and herself. She is also a lazy bird (as per Dr. Seuss), she doesn’t have any motherly instincts but at least in Seussical she has The Common sense to realize this and leaves Horton in charge of her egg, much to his dismay. She’s shallow but Ahrens and Flaherty have redeemed her a tad.

SG: In Seussical, the Cat in the Hat is sort of the narrator of the show. He shows up in these little pockets of the show and for the most part, turns the pages for the audience. It’s a great role…if you’re OK with sweating! I would like to think that there are a few similarities between the Cat in the Hat and I. I try not to be so serious. Instead of frustration, I try to find fascination with the chaos. I think it is safe to say that the Cat feels the same way. I pal around with a Thing 1 and Thing 2 quite often. However, they don’t have blue hair and I call them my “son” and “daughter”.

What is a "think"?

MG: Inspiration and new ideas. Thinks can happen anytime and anywhere to anyone at all. Sometimes a seemingly simple idea can change the world.

SG: Oh, a “think” is what pops out of your mind if you don’t stop it. In the show there is a line that says “If you open your mind, oh the thinks you will find lining up to get loose.” If we can get just a few people to come to a closer understanding of that great Seuss “philosophy”, then I think we’ve done quite a good thing at The Growing Stage.

What is it like working all together as a family?

MG: Well it’s truly an honor! Of course when we’re rushing out the door and stressing over homework and housework it can seem overwhelming until you take a moment to realize how few families have the opportunity to share this magical experience and those who have are legendary, which is pretty swell company. It’s then that you feel overwhelmed with gratitude. It is honestly one of the most rewarding experiences. We also have a strong family connection to the show; Kevin Chamberlin who of course originated the role of Horton on Broadway is my brother Michael’s husband and my dear brother. We saw it when Uncle Kevin opened on Broadway and have been huge fans of the show ever since. While Steve and I have done the show before this is the first time the kids are doing Seussical and so for us it’s particularly special.

SG: It’s like knowing that you are living in a fantastic future memory!

"Whoville" citizens Ethan and Amelia Graham also shared their thoughts on being part of The Growing Stage's production:

What do you think is the best thing about Seussical?

EG: The creativity and the fun of the play.

AG: I think the best part of Seussical is that they have a lot of the Dr. Seuss stories built into it and that it is a musical.

What do you like most about the character you play?

EG: My favorite thing about my character is that they help to save Who.

AG: What I like most about my character is that I am tiny. I always thought it would be so cool to be small because you could do a lot of different things and life would just be so cool.

What is your favorite part of your costume?

EG: My favorite part of my costume is the bowtie. Bowties are cool.

AG: My favorite part of my costume is my skirt because it puffs out, like in princess movies when the princess twirls around, it spins in the air.

Can you tell us about your character.

EG: My character is a Who that lives in Whoville.

AG: My character is a Who on the planet Who in Who Ville. (I wonder if there is a Who Town or Who County…)

What is a "think"?

EG: A think is an idea that someone creates in their imagination.

AG: A think is something imaginative sprouted from your imagination.

What has it been like working all together as a family?

EG: It's more fun because your family is all there with you backstage and at rehearsals.

AG: It is very fun working together as a family because you feel comfortable and you don’t feel “alone in the universe”. (Ha ha!)

The Growing Stage, The Children’s Theatre of New Jersey is located in the Historic Palace Theatre on Route 183 in Netcong, New Jersey. The current production of SEUSSICAL runs from March 9th to April 1st with performances Friday evenings at 7:30 PM, Saturday and Sunday matinees at 4:00 PM. 

Tickets for SEUSSICAL are $18 for adults, $14 for children and seniors, with group rates available. On Sunday, April 1st the Growing Stage will host a signed interpreted performance at 4:00 PM. Tickets can be purchased by calling the TGS Box Office at (973) 347-4946 or logging onto their website at www.growingstage.com

To see highlights of The Growing Stage's production of SEUSSICAL, click here!



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