Seuss extravaganza Desert Foothills Theater

Desert Foothills Theater Music Director Darlene Duffy, far left, the cast of “Seussical Jr.” and Director Mikaella Belsan, right, pose for a group photo before rehearsals.

Desert Foothills Theater in northern Scottsdale will revive a musical performed on its stage about 10 years ago – one that brings to life all of your favorite Dr. Seuss characters, including Cat in the Hat and Horton from Horton Hears a Who.

Starting May 10, a group of 30 kids ages 9 to 16 from all over the Valley will perform the fantastical musical extravaganza, “Seussical Jr.,” written by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty.

“[‘Seussical Jr.’] is one of my favorite shows,” said Mikaella Belson, director of “Seussical Jr.” “It’s such a universal story that everyone can relate to.”

Narrated by Cat in the Hat, the 90-minute musical transports the audience from the Jungle of Nool to the Circus McGurkus.

In the play, Horton the elephant discovers the Whos on a speck, and he protects them from a world of naysayers and dangers.

The music director is Darlene Duffy, a music teacher at Granada Elementary School’s east campus.

The score includes a wide range of musical styles and genres, from Latin, pop and swing to gospel, R&B and funk.

“I sing them all the time. I’m sure my coworkers are upset about it,” Belson said with a laugh. “It’s just a very catchy show. The songs get stuck in your head, and they’re super delightful.”

Rehearsals began about one month ago, and Belson has been working with the kids on the timing and rhythm of the show ever since.

“We’re running the show and perfecting it so the audience can really enjoy it, and we’re helping the kids really expand on their characters,” she said. “Everything has to happen at a certain pace, otherwise it kind of falls flat, especially because it has such like a rhyming rhythm to it already.”

For Belson, a resident of Surprise and director at Desert Foothills Theater for about five years, the most rewarding part of putting on “Seussical Jr.” is tapping back into what it felt like performing in musicals at a young age.

“I really love when the audience finally comes in and you just know that for a few hours all of their problems disappear because they just enjoy this,” she said, adding:

“The kids are going to feel this real accomplishment, and it’s going to carry with them as they continue to do theater.”

According to Belson, every kid at Desert Foothills Theater – which has been presenting live performances since 1975 – gets an opportunity to shine.

“That’s a priority in this theater and that’s something that I feel is very important as a youth director,” she said. “[Desert Foothills Theater] may not have the biggest budget in the world, but they’re very resourceful and they make kids feel very special in every aspect of the show.”

Managing director of the Desert Foothills Theater Tia Wooley agrees, adding that, at the theater, they also teach teamwork and “learning to be a team player will build skills in collaboration, problem solving, focus, creativity, confidence, accountability, dedication, non-verbal communication, how to receive constructive feedback, perseverance and more.”

“Your child will learn the ins and outs of theater life, make new friends and build confidence to be in front of a crowd,” Wooley said.

In “Seussical Jr.,” Horton faces ridicule, danger and trial, but the powers of friendship, loyalty, family and community emerge triumphant.

“I hope [the audience] takes away the part of the story that everyone’s important, even if they seem insignificant to you,” Belson said.

On May 19, cast members of the musical will take part in Jojo’s Jolly Tea Party, a one-day-only, interactive event on May 19 at Cactus Shadows Theater where attendees will enjoy tea and snacks.

“Some of the characters in the show will come, and they’ll sing some of the songs,” Belson said. “They’ll serve you the tea, and they’ll read some Dr. Seuss books as well.”

“Seussical Jr.” performances take place May 10, 11, 17 and 18 at 7 p.m., and May 12 and 19 at 2 p.m. at Cactus Shadows Theater.

Tickets are $19.

“Just because it’s ‘Seussical Jr.’ doesn’t mean it’s a show that isn’t as difficult as it could be for some of these kids. Everyone can enjoy the show, whether you’re 50 or you’re 5 years old,” Belson said.