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Kids relish being the Who’s who of Seussical Jr

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When 10-year-old King David Linksfield Grade 4 pupil Caiden Distiller steps onto stage in Dr Seussical Jr at the People’s Theatre, he may initially be a little nervous, but once he’s on stage, those nerves “go away”, he says.

Distiller is one of four Jewish children in the show that brings Dr Seuss’s books to life with colourful sets and catchy songs. The others are Sienna Epstein (Grade 4 at Yeshiva College); Nava Wolovitz (Grade 6 at Hirsch Lyons); and Zoe Fine (Grade 5 at King David Victory Park).

The children’s musical follows the story of Horton Hears a Who, with elements of Dr Seuss’s other stories, such as the The Cat in the Hat, in the narration.

Distiller plays the lead role of Jojo, who is “one of the Whos, the tiny people who Horton the elephant found on a speck of dust and put on a little clover”, he told the SA Jewish Report. “Jojo is a thinker. He questions stuff, but his mom and his dad, the mayor, don’t want him to think. They want him to be a normal boy and do everything he’s supposed to do. Part of the play is about his journey.”

Though the rehearsals were fun, Distiller said he and the other young actors had to put in a great deal of work.

“We would rehearse every day after school until 17:30, and every Saturday from 10:00 until 17:30. But I made lots of friends and I enjoyed it a lot,” he said. “I do have to miss school to perform, but luckily, it’s only one day a week and then I perform on the weekend. When I do miss a day, my teachers and I will work hard to catch up.

“My favourite thing about performing is being on stage and inspiring little kids, who think I’m amazing,” he said.

Wolovitz (12), Epstein (9), and Fine (10) play Whos, as well as Wickersham Monkeys.

“The Wickersham brothers are monkeys who think Horton is a fool, and we make fun of him,” said Wolovitz. “Then we try to get him arrested.” Her favourite part of the show is her dance as a Who. “There’s a quick change before one of the scenes which is really difficult because our costumes don’t have a zip or Velcro or anything.”

Wolovitz said that the most difficult part of performing was having to miss Saturday rehearsals because of Shabbat. One of her favourite memories was when the cast sang “Happy Birthday” to her.

“Since I was very little, I’ve loved watching plays,” Epstein said, “and I’ve always wanted to be in one. My favourite thing about performing is knowing that I’m the one people are coming to watch, just like I would go to watch other people perform.

“At school and everywhere I go, I’m usually around Jewish kids only,” Epstein said. “At the theatre, I get to learn about other people. That’s been really good.”

Epstein said she balanced school and performing by “coming to school in the morning on the days when I’m not performing, doing my work quickly, and then getting my other work done in time. My teachers have been very understanding.”

“The rehearsals were intense. But we were separated into two groups,” Fine said. “Half the time, they were working with the other group, and we sat watching, and the rest of the time, we would rehearse. The directors were strict. But it’s nice because we were able to get proper feedback and experience.

“My favourite part of the whole thing was meeting new people,” she said.

  • Dr Seussical Jr is on at the People’s Theatre until 30 July.

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