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Horton who? A decade later, Frazee-Vergas High School brings back its musical

Top, cast members from left, Paige Saarinen, Drew Dahlgren, Cole Zick, Hailey Jutz, Kim Wheeler and Alex Day listen to Jacob Wheeler try to prove his puff is talking and someone is living on it. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham

Persistence has paid off.

After 10 years without a school musical, the Frazee-Vergas High School is hosting its first musical in a decade on May 9, 11 and 12, thanks in part to a couple of seniors who insisted this was the year to bring it back.

“Their persistence,” choir teacher, and now director, Brittany Forness said is the reason it’s back — plain and simple. “They were in and out of my room every day.”

The energy Shayna Rodeman and Tristan Watchorn brought into her office each day, “that’s what made us act on it.”

In her third year of teaching at Frazee, and the second year at the high school, Forness said she had always intended to get the school board’s approval to bring back the musical but had planned on waiting a couple years until she had more time with the choir department under her belt.

But, she also agreed that this was the group of senior students to move forward with.

“I knew they would deliver,” she said.

‘Something is going down’

“If we don’t get a musical this year, something is going down,” Rodeman said was her thought for getting a musical back to Frazee this year, her senior year.

As a freshman, Rodeman participated in a musical that Frazee Community Education held four years ago, but wanted the experience with her high school friends, too. So she started lobbying Forness to not only take on the task of leading the musical but also getting the board’s approval.

Rodeman said she was “upset obviously” because the school hadn’t hosted musicals over her last couple years in high school and wanted to make sure there was one her senior year.

So she and Watchorn started talking every day with Forness about getting the musical going.

“It’s my mode of expression,” she said of singing and why it was important to have a musical. “All my inhibitions and stress go away.”

Senior Jacob Wheeler, who plays Horton in the musical, was also a part of the community ed play when he was in ninth grade.

“I wasn’t going to be in (this year’s) musical, but then Mrs. Forness and Shayna talked me into it because it’s my last one,” he said.

Rather than participating in golf, he said, “I can golf whenever I want” but can’t be in his high school musical whenever he wants. “Seussical” won out.

Getting approval

On March 10, Forness and band teacher Brian Selander asked the school board’s approval to host a musical. During the discussion that night, the board questioned being able to pull off a musical this year and maybe instead going forward for next school year.

Forness told the board though that this was the year for it because of the seniors.

So the board granted them approval that night, and two days later, Thursday and Friday, they held auditions. Practice started the following Tuesday.

There are 13 roles in the script, but more can be added. Twenty-five were cast out of the 50 who had auditioned.

“We weren’t expecting that much response,” Forness said.

The school borrowed costumes from Trollwood and West Fargo School, and some the students came up with on their own.

Art teacher Bonnie Tweeton created the sets, with some assistance from students.

“Anything we’ve had to pull off, it has so far,” Forness said. “I feel really good about it.”

Her students agree.

“It’s going really fast. It’s crazy getting ready in this short of a time,” Rodeman said.

Getting the right roles

Forness said it was easy for her to pick “Seussical” as this year’s play.

“I have seen these kids in these roles since I came two years ago,” she said with a laugh.

“Seussical” is based on the books of Dr. Seuss, with a focus on “Horton Hears a Who!,” “Horton Hatches the Egg” and “The One Feather Tail of Gertrude McFuzz.” There are lines from about 15 other Dr. Seuss books, as well.

Once approval came from the school board, Forness said she didn’t have the script yet before auditions were held, so she had students audition by reading from the book “Horton Hatches the Egg.”

Wheeler said that when he auditioned, expecting to get a small part, he ended up with the lead of Horton, a character, he said, that’s a lot like him. He said he can seem absent minded or off in his own little world, but the caring side comes through as well.

Landing the role of Gertrude McFuzz, Rodeman said she didn’t care what part she got in the musical, she just wanted it to be a “prime role.” Her entire grade, she said, is pretty drama oriented and well-rounded so it made sense to have a musical this year.

Forness said she plans to have a musical each year now that the initial year is in full swing.

“Seussical” will hit the stage May 9 at 8 p.m. and May 11-12 at 7 p.m. each night in the Frazee High School commons room. Tickets are $8 for adults and $6 for students. They are available at the high school office or at the door.

Given the nature of the Dr. Seuss books, the musical is certainly family-friendly.

“Kids and adults alike will enjoy this one,” Forness said.

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.