“AS far as I’m concerned, a set is a big sculpture,” director-designer Wayne Shepherd tells me.The theatrical veteran and former multi-arts teacher in Canberra schools is enjoying talking to “CityNews” about his next production, because we once described his knitted set for “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” as “astounding” and he liked that.
Shepherd is the director of “Seussical the Musical” for Ickle Pickle Productions, coming up in the New Year, and he’s quick to point out that while he is a great fan of the show’s writers, Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, this is the short version, not the three-hour version that bombed on Broadway.
It’s a kind of musical composite of Dr Seuss’ “Horton Hears a Who!” and “Horton Hatches the Egg”, where a lovable elephant takes over looking after the egg of lazy bird Mayzie and finds himself abducted by hunters, shown off in a circus and subjected to all kinds of indignities until his good nature triumphs over all.
The show, Shepherd says, can have a cast of nine to 200, but Ickle Pickle has gone for a modest 32, partly involving children rehearsing over the holidays.
“My motto is: ‘Never do anything that’s been done before in Canberra’,” Shepherd says. So while the full-length version was, indeed, staged by Phoenix Players in 2005, “this is completely new and it feels like a new show, too.”
“I love to be original,” Shepherd says. “I wanted to do a black theatre piece and to bring puppets on stage and to make it 4-D… my production will include all sorts of wonders.”
While he’s a little evasive about the 4-D, he admits to having been mightily influenced by the touring production of “Slava’s Snow Show” and demanded of his technical crew “snow and bubbles”.
With a quirky sense of humour and a lot of jokes accessible to adults, he believes it will be more suitable for six and seven years and up than for the very tiny.
“Grandparents are going to love it… in Canberra, grandparents are stuck with their grandkids during the school holidays, so are only too pleased to have something to take them to.”
And he’s got stars. There’s Kaitlin Nihill, who shone as Ugly the Duckling early in the year, playing Jo-Jo, and high school drama teacher Adam Salter as the Cat in the Hat and master of many accents.
As well, there are fabulous character actors, the backbone of any show, such as Sarah Hull, Deborah Byrne, and Geoff Young (who auditioned for Cirque du Soleil).
Sensing Young’s talent, Shepherd asked him to pick a song and some kids, teach them to juggle, and to create a circus interlude in “Seussical”.
So there’s a fun set designed by Shepherd, colourful costumes by Jeanette Humphrey, circus by Young and rollicking music directed by Susan Davenport.
“It’s just stunning,” Shepherd enthuses.
“Seussical”, Belconnen Theatre, January 10-25. Bookings to 6275 2700 or canberraticketing.com.au