“Mayzie is Beyoncé” and Other Astute Observations about the Psychology of Dr. Seuss Characters

What would it be like to spend some time as your favorite storybook character? Surely every kid has pondered that question at some point.

Three members of the Class of 2018 are getting the chance to do more than imagine the answer to that query, as they strut, leap, and dance across the Johnson Theater stage, all while singing and reciting in rhyme, to embody some of the zaniest characters ever to jump off the page. From the byzantine imagination of Dr. Seuss, a.k.a. Theodor Geisel, the yearning Gertrude McFuzz, the dazzling Mayzie LaBird, and incorrigible Cat in the Hat are brought to life in Seussical the Musical, which begins on Wednesday and runs through Sunday. (By the way, get your tickets online right here.)

We asked these sage seniors to provide some psychological insight into their characters, who are much more than cartoon creations.

Introducing Mary Alice Russell ’18 as Gertrude McFuzz, a little bird whose single, pathetic tail-feather is a source of embarrassment and woe to her, until she gets a magic concoction that changes her life...

Mary Alice has been in six winter musicals, but it was a particular role in her Lower School years that started her on the road to playing comic roles. As a third grader in the Young People’s Theater Program performance of Alice in Wonderland, she played a particular part of a caterpillar’s anatomy. “Yes, I was the caterpillar butt—b, u, t, t. Butt! I had one line, ‘Why the mushroom, of course!’ And then I had to do a crazy laugh.” (And yes, the insane laugh is still in her repertoire today, along with an array of accents, honed while doing Lower School forensics.)

In the ensuing years, her roles have become more complex. In last year’s The Wizard of Oz, Mary Alice descended from the rafters in a bubble for her star turn as Glinda the Good Witch, and she developed that goody-two-shoes, pitch-perfect Glinda voice. Gertrude McFuzz has challenged her in new ways. For one thing, the role is written for a soprano, and Mary Alice is an alto; one song requires her to sing a note so high, “I didn’t realize it existed.”

In addition, Gertrude is pure oddball, which allows Mary Alice to do things that she wouldn’t normally do, like improvise a goofy dance—even though Mary Alice’s many years on the Dance Team give her an edge in that department.  “She’s a very funny character, but she doesn’t always know that she’s funny,” Mary Alice said. “But she knows that she’s weird and odd.”

In addition, Mary Alice says that for all of Gertrude’s outlandish efforts to get Horton's attention (that's Horton the Elephant, played by Patrick McElroy '19), and her willingness to do the Seuss equivalent of plastic surgery to improve her appearance, she has a whole lot of soul. “Mayzie has lost herself in so many ways, she can’t put herself back together,” Mary Alice says. “Gertrude has lost herself, but she can put herself back together and find herself.”

From the perspective of Sophia Burke ’18, who plays the brassy and bodacious Mayzie LaBird, her character could be the Dr. Seuss equivalent of Lady Gaga, with the absurd costumes and theatricality. Then again…”Actually, Mayzie considers herself as Beyoncé,” Sophia says. “The top of the pack. The Queen.”

Sophia has also been in six winter musicals, starting in 7th grade as Jane in Peter Pan, and progressing to last year’s starring role as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. Sophia predicts that a match-up between Dorothy and Mayzie wouldn’t last long. “Mayzie would be so fed up by the way that Dorothy lets people walk all over her,” Sophia notes. “And Dorothy is content with the way her life is—Mayzie wants to see the world.” However, the world for Mayzie is more like the glamour centers, definitely not Kansas, Sophia said. “She’d take one look and bolt.”

The Mayzie role requires a lot of dancing, and that helped Sophia, who has been on the Dance Team throughout Middle and Upper School, get immersed in the character. “When I dance, I become a different person,” she said. “I like Mayzie’s confidence; that’s what I like about her. She never says ‘sorry,’ and she speaks her mind.”

In fact, Sophia contends that Mayzie is the deepest character in the show, one who recognizes her own shortcomings as a potential parent. “She has more layers than you might think,” Sophia said.

The impresario of the show—the Barnum of Seussical’s three-ring circus—is The Cat in the Hat, played by Alek Sas ’18. Like the two other seniors in starring roles, he started in winter musicals in 7th grade, but he has only appeared in five of them. He spent last year in the School Year Abroad program in China, where he got fluent enough in Chinese that he could not only navigate solo in Beijing, he could read entire novels.

So there’s no doubt Alek has a sense of adventure, and that is certainly one road to understanding the Cat in the Hat. However, the Cat isn’t merely adventurous. He likes mischief. Oh, yes, he likes it a lot. “Overall, he doesn’t want the bad things that happen to be lasting,” Alek said. “But sometimes the mischief carries him away.”

The Cat is often improvising—pretending to be a police officer, a nurse, and the Grinch. One of Alek’s favorite scenes is when he dresses up as José the Pool Boy and gets to do a Miami accent. In some ways, the Cat in the Hat is an alter ego for Dr. Seuss, for he is the “creator of the story,” the character who knows the past, present, and future.

The Cat in the Hat character also helps make the show much more than a performance for kids, Alek notes. “There are jokes that a 5-year-old won’t get, tongue-in-cheek references, pop culture references.”

All in all, Alek says that playing this role reminds him of how much he missed the theater while he was in China. “I am so much more invested in it,” he said. “Getting this big role in my senior year...it’s like coming home.”

Don’t you miss this incredible show with more than 100 Norfolk Academy students involved onstage and behind the scenes! Buy your tickets now or at the door!

Preview performances Wednesday and Thursday, Feb. 14 and 15, at 4 p.m.

Friday, February 16, 7:00 PM
Saturday, February 17, 3:00 PM 
Sunday, February 18, 3:00 PM
 
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