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19 February 2007
Making Sense of Seuss

By Shawn Ryan
Star Entertainment Editor
Anniston Star

Coty Cockrell is the Cat in the Hat and Scott Van Patten Jr. is Horton the Elephant in the musical 'Seussical,' coming this week and next to Jacksonville State. Photo: Jan Rhodes/Special to The Star

Reprinted here from the Anniston Star in its entirety.

It's not an easy job teaching someone to move like Gertrude McFuzz, a bird whose tail is so huge it's too heavy for flight. And just try to explain how the Sour Kangaroo hops about or exactly how Horton the Elephant sits on an egg.

But Amy Uhl left her home in New York City and traveled to Jacksonville State University specifically to tackle those tasks.

Uhl, a 1984 graduate in drama and communications from JSU, is choreographer for the upcoming production of Seussical, the musical based on books by Dr. Seuss. For the demanding musical, actors needed to be something of a “triple threat,” Uhl says, able to act and sing and dance. That's a heavy load for most college students, she says.

“It's a music-driven show, there's a lot to do,” says Uhl, who has spent the last 18 years living, working and performing in New York, in regional and national touring companies and on cruise ships.

“There's so much movement and so much activity and a lot of props,” she says about Seussical. “It takes a lot to put it all together. For the students, it's a big challenge.”

For Uhl (pronounced “yule”), the challenge is not so much teaching the cast to dance a la West Side Story or Chicago as it is to teach them how to move like characters in the play, says Seussical director Eric Traynor. Among the cast of 31 are Horton, Gertrude McFuzz, the Cat in the Hat, the Whos, Yertle the Turtle, Mayzie La Bird and the Wickersham Brothers. The plot — such as it is — veers from Horton Hears a Who to Horton Hatches the Egg, from McElligot's Pool to How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Along the way it also touches on If I Ran the Circus, The Lorax, The Butter Battle Book, I Had Trouble Getting to Solla Sollew and nine other Seuss books.

“My motto is: Move for a reason. Make sure it makes sense that this character is doing this movement, that it pushes the plot forward,” says Uhl, who has toured in national productions of such plays as A Chorus Line, Chicago and Oklahoma and also teaches dance at NYC's Steps on Broadway school.

OK, so how exactly do you teach someone to move like, say, those nasty apes, the Wickersham Brothers?

“The Wickersham Brothers are fun and funky and funny and lively and the way the costumes are being done — they're fantasy animal/creatures-type costumes — they have lots of things to do with their arms. So I kind of made them kind of like the Pips,” Uhl says.

The Pips, of course, are the famous trio that backed Gladys Knight on such songs as “Midnight Train to Georgia” Like many soul groups from the '60s and '70s, the Pips do some soft-shoe dance steps, some spinning and twirling and some expressive hand/arm gestures to match the lyrics. In the same vein, the all-female trio of Birds in Seussical is patterned after Diana Ross & the Supremes, Uhl says.

Adding another layer to the pie, Seussical contains several different styles of music — Latin, jazz, blues and others — “and all those different styles warrant different moods of movement,” Uhl says.

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