‘Seussical’ makes its debut at Bloomfield HS for a good cause: helping Nutley boy

Photo by Daniel Jackovino
Appearing in the Talent Time Players production of ‘Seussical’ are Bloomfield residents, from left, Skyyler Crawley, Allison Alexis and Mark Schellhorn.

BLOOMFIELD, NJ — The venerable Talent Time Players will present “Seussical,” beginning next week, for its annual theatrical performance at Bloomfield High School, to benefit a local boy requiring medical assistance. According to Victoria Alameda, the president of the Charles Seller Foundation, which oversees the Players, the beneficiary is 9-year-old Chase McGee, of Nutley. Chase was diagnosed in 2021 with medulloblastoma, a cancerous growth that starts in the cerebellum. Alameda said the foundation reached out to local boards of health to help determine the show’s beneficiary.

Alameda also said that three Bloomfield residents have been cast in the musical. They are BHS students Allison Alexis and Skyyler Crawley, and BHS alumnus Mark Schellhorn.

“‘Seussical’ was chosen because we wanted a show geared for the age range of children,” Alameda said. “We wanted something happy to lift the spirits.”

The musical was written by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, and its story takes place in the Jungle of Nool, which is inhabited by characters created by the children’s author, Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss. Guided into the jungle by the Cat in the Hat, the audience meets Horton, who has discovered Whoville on a dust speck. But he is not believed, and, held as an outcast, he is put on trial.

The Broadway production of “Seussical” opened Nov. 30, 2000, and closed May 20, 2001, after 198 performances. A huge flop, the show was subsequently reworked into a popular show.

Guiding the Talent Time Players production is freelance director Gregory Liosi, of Hackensack. In an interview at the July 21 rehearsal, Liosi said auditions were held just before Memorial Day, with rehearsals starting in early June. The show has a cast of 20, with a few actors middle school–aged, but most high school–aged to 30 years old. The music will be performed by a full orchestra of volunteers.

“I have a pretty cool history with ‘Seussical,’” Liosi said. “I’m the artistic director for the Hackensack Performing Arts Center. We were one of the first to get the royalties when it had closed and when its publishers determined amateurs could produce it.”

Liosi explained that “getting the royalties” meant being allowed to produce the show.

“When it was on Broadway, it was a much different script,” he said. “I was lucky enough to be the first director when it came out for royalties. This will be my fourth time directing it.”

Liosi is no stranger to Talent Time productions. Last year, his daughter was involved with the production of “The Addams Family.” He said he researched the foundation and thought it was a worthy cause and approached the board, which had several ideas for shows it wanted produced.

“I told them my history, and they thought it was a good fit,” he said. “A good director, I tell people, can direct a phone book.”

When “Seussical” was no longer on Broadway, Liosi said he worked with the publisher to scale it down to fit into the 224-seat Hackensack venue.

“Because of this connection, I felt an affinity for the musical and with the creative team’s input,” he said. “The first script I got was massive.”

Nonetheless, Liosi said a director must work with what is on the page. The Talent Time production has some scenes from the original script, but it is essentially the same one he first directed. With about 20 distinct songs, the show is mostly sung. Its running time, with intermission, is two and a quarter hours.

“I think ‘Seussical’ is pretty easy to stage,” Liosi said. “There are some parts that can be challenging and there are different styles of song. And you always have a budget. But you can do a lot with a little. I think we did that here.”

As an aside, Liosi said he is the director for theatrical productions at Immaculate Conception High School in Lodi. One of his performers during her four years in high school was Rachel Zegler, who was cast as Maria in Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story,” released in 2021.

“Her talent was obvious,” Liosi said. “I had nothing to do with it. I just had to make sure the spotlight worked.”

But in 2019, her senior year, he said she told him she wanted to appear in her high school production of “Shrek.” He told her she was a professional actor and therefore at a level beyond such a role. Spielberg told her the same thing, according to Liosi, but relented and she appeared in the musical.

“Seussical” will be presented in the BHS auditorium, 160 Broad St. in Bloomfield, on Aug. 4, 5, 6, 12 and 13 at 7:30 p.m.; and on Aug. 6 and 13 at 2 p.m. A fee will be charged.