Rockaway Theatre Co. shows its younger side

By Merle Exit

Although they will most likely find it buried under a couple feet of snow, Dr. Seuss and his cavalcade of characters, including Horton the Elephant and the Cat in the Hat, plan to drop by Rockaway Beach next week.

That is when The Rockaway Theatre Co. presents the culmination of its 5-1/2-month-long youth workshop with a performance of “Seussical Jr.”

“Our goal is an ensemble concentrated on teamwork and creativity to bring a balanced production to life while having fun in the process,” said Peggy Page, director and instructor.

Page said she and the other adults involved in the show are a team and they treat each of the more than 50 young performers in the show as part of that team.

Beginning in September, instructors start brainstorming possible shows to stage at the end of the workshop.

“There are not that many age-appropriate musicals for a cast of 50-plus kids,” said Page.

The musical they chose, “Seussical Jr.,” written by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, debuted on Broadway 15 years ago and plays as a mash-up of Dr. Seuss’s children’s books: “Miss Gertrude McFuzz,” “Horton Hatches the Egg” and “Horton Hears a Who!”

During the workshop, the young cast members receive vocal, dance and acting instruction from Page and her crew. Participants meet every Saturday for two hours. As the opening approaches, classes get longer and extra rehearsals are scheduled. Each of the roles is double-cast so everyone has a chance to be on stage.

“We try to make each child shine. We never give a student something they will fail at,” said Page. “If the kids come back the following year, we know their strengths and weaknesses so we help them where they need the help. The kids in our program all want to be there and so they work really hard to do their best.”

This is Andrew Feldman’s first workshop. The 12-year old has been cast as Horton the Elephant.

“I have a friend who had only good things to say,” said Andrew. “I have been doing theater since I was 5. Nothing has come close to the quality shows at Rockaway Theatre. I have also been cast in the upcoming teen edition of ‘Legally Blonde’ and very much look forward to the workshops.”

Page said the theater has become a home away from home for most of the young actors, who realize it is a safe place to use their imagination and get away from television and video games. She said most of the children’s mothers and fathers are also thrilled with the workshops.

“Parents tell me they never have to wake their children up on Saturday mornings,” she said. “They are up and ready to go.” Rita Rohde has been bringing her three daughters from Brooklyn to the “Seussical Jr.” workshops. For Madeline, 6, it is her first go round with Rockaway and she is playing a bird girl. Caroline, 10, is co-sharing a principal role as Gertrude. Olivia, 13, who has been attending classes for five years, opted to skip the stage this time and focus her attention behind the scenes. She gets a chance to perform in the teen production of “Legally Blonde” later this winter.

“What they learn here exceeds anywhere else,” said Rohde. “They are prepared for other auditions, including open calls for Broadway shows. My home is the happiest when they are singing the sound track to the plays they are rehearsing.”

Another benefit from taking the workshop involves landing a role in one of the theater’s main stage productions.

“When the main stage directors need to cast children, they come to us first for our recommendations,” said Page. “Our kids know how to handle themselves during rehearsals and productions, so it is a plus.”

Brooklynite Annapurna Sinha believes the workshop has done wonders for her 10-year-old son Iravan’s self-esteem. After taking the workshop, Iravan landed a part in the theater’s adult production of “Gypsy.”

“Aside from the creativity, Iravan has learned discipline and has more confidence,” she said.

If you Go

“Seussical Jr.”

When: Through Feb. 8

Where: The Rockaway Theatre Co., The Post Theatre, Building T4, Fort Tilden, Rockaway

Cost: $10

Contact: (718) 374-6400

Website: www.rockawaytheatre

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