5 Minutes with Dawn Morningstar, Director of “Seussical, Jr.”

Dawn Morningstar works with “Seussical, Jr.” cast.
Photo by Dan Luner

“The production team, we sort of have each other’s backs in a way, and are sort of filling in holes that other people don’t have, so it’s a really nice combination of people. And the kids are doing that too, which is neat. So, I think it’s filtering down or maybe it’s filtering up. It’s hard to tell. They’re [the kids] are…really thinking about the show, and coming in with stuff and asking questions, and that’s really cool.”

– Dawn Morningstar

Brenna Dinon: How do you feel working with the cast and is this different from casts in the past because of the show?

Dawn Morningstar: Wow, two big questions. I love the cast. The cast is really talented. In fact we had a really hard time casting the show because we had so many talented people. We had multiple possible Hortons, multiple possible Mayzies, multiple possible JoJos. So, that was a challenge but also excellent because we have an excellent cast.

What makes the cast unique?

The “Seussical” production team, from left to right: Dawn Morningstar, Sean Skahill, Katie Ringwood, Ali Caiazzo, and Dan Matarazzo (at the piano). Photo by Lauren Stevenson Yacina

Well, they’re lots of roles.  That’s one of the things, and the [characters] also not people. Except for the Whos and JoJo, but JoJo is played by a girl, even though he’s a boy. So part of the challenge I think for the actors is that they’re not playing humans and they’re so many different roles and so many different story lines that converge so it’s not like we’re following one person’s story. We’re following multiple storylines, so they each sort of have their own track and they kind of intersect and then go away, so that’s kind of interesting.

Why do you keep coming back to Summer Stage?

Because they keep hiring me! [laughs]. No, because it’s a lot of fun. I enjoy it.  There are a couple things I love about Summer Stage. Number one, the energy is great here and you can’t find this kind of sprit and passion about theatre in any other place…that I’ve felt. And I’ve worked with professionals and I work with high schools but here, there’s something magical about this place and I’m not sure what it is. You know it’s hard to put your finger on what that is.  It’s a combination of the people and the site and the theatre and just the talent level. Two, it works great for my schedule that’s just practical. My husband is a teacher so I’m here for the summer and he’s home with the kids.  And number three, in terms of a work environment it’s very family friendly, which is not easy to find. Sometimes in theatre, kids can’t come because either the material [of a show] or because of the theatre, and because of the rules and stuff.  You know I’m able to bring my kids and able to see other people’s kids and it feels like family. I’ve seen you guys grow up basically. You’ve been in casts and I’ve seen you in shows. It’s fun to see the students develop over the years and also then take on leadership roles. And then, maybe you see them audition one year and they’re not so great, and the next year they’ve gotten better and the next year they’re getting a lead.  It’s really kind of cool to have that follow through. So those are the main reasons why I come back. You know it’s fun, I have a good time. I feel like I work with very talented kids but also staff. Everybody works together here, it’s like a big giant family.

What’s your perspective from being a participant in the program to a director?

Boy, it’s been so long since I’ve been in a cast, Brenna! That’s a tough question. As a performer it feels like it’s really difficult and it is, but when you’re on the other side of the aisle you see how much harder that is. I feel like it’s harder to be on staff than to be a performer because you’re making decisions and you’re taking care of kids but you’re also making all these choices, and you have to disappoint some kids, and you want to make it the best show possible. But you are also balancing the learning aspect with the performance aspect and trying to make that all blend. So there’s a lot to keep track of. As a performer you go in you do your job you learn your choreography, you learn your songs, you go home and you work on it and come back and do it again. But you don’t have to think about “where’s my costume gonna be?” you know it’s there for you. And it magically appears but you don’t realize all this stuff happens that gets it to that place.

How many shows have you directed at Summer Stage?

The first show I did was in 1988 and it was a show I was in, it was “Guys and Dolls.” The next summer I came back and I choreographed every single Children’s theatre show [that summer]. I choreographed all six Children’s Theatre shows, which was quite interesting… I think I was off a year or two and I came back when Rob Henry was Children’s Theatre producer… and then I started choreographing…I usually choreographed two shows for a number of years with a couple years off here and there… That was Peter Pan year (2008), the first year I was back. And then I’ve been directing/choreographing for the past four years.

Dawn works with the “Seussical” cast. Photo by Dan Luner.

What are the kids learning and how are you learning from the kids?  From years past and now, are there things that you take back from them? Do they give you things as you are giving them the tools to become better performers?

I learn something every year. I feel like this is the hardest working cast I’ve had in a long time, and sort of, the most professional. Even the chorus is already starting to act with their character stuff before I’ve even said anything. They are already starting to incorporate the direction that the staff is giving.

This is a much more collaborative show because it’s almost all music. So Dan (Matarazzo), music director and Sean (Skahill, asst. music director) are taking a huge part because there is so much music. And I also have Devon (Fields) and Amanda (Kelly) doing choreography. I think I’m learning how to delegate really, really well to the staff that I have. With such a giant show I can’t choreograph every single number. I am sort of overseeing and shaping and letting other people fill in the details. I kind of had an overarching theme and got everybody on board in terms of what we’re doing…and I’m filling in gaps.  The production team, we sort of have each other’s backs in a way, and are sort of filling in holes that other people don’t have, so it’s a really nice combination of people. And the kids are doing that too, which is neat, so I think it’s filtering down or maybe it’s filtering up. It’s hard to tell. They’re [the kids] are bringing stuff and really thinking about the show and coming in with stuff and asking questions and that’s really cool.

Why should people come see “Seussical, Jr.?”

Well, okay there’s a lot of reasons. Number one, it’s “Seussical” I mean it’s Seuss. If you have ever read a Seuss story, a lot of them are in there [the musical]. It’s based on the Seuss books. It’s “Horton Hears a Who,” “Horton Sits on an Egg,” and there are all kinds of great Seuss characters in it. The cast is really fabulous and entertaining. The costumes look gorgeous. I saw them the other day. It’s going to be really colorful and energetic. It’s really catchy. The songs, you’ll just be singing them for days! Perfect example…my five–year-old sings “Oh the Thinks You Can Think” all the time.

And I think it’s also something that families can use, it’s learning for their kids. They can take what they see and go home and start reading to their kids. I’ll use an example, my little five year old now, ever since he’s been coming to rehearsals and seeing this, wants me to read Seuss stories. Every night before bed I go “Goodnight, Liam” and he says “Goodnight Mommy, see you in Solla Sollew”. So, you know he’s taking that home and he’s incorporating some of the Seuss characters. It’s also a way for parents if they want to encourage reading and learning for their kids as well.

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1 thought on “5 Minutes with Dawn Morningstar, Director of “Seussical, Jr.”

  1. Billy says:

    Great interview! Dawn is my favorite (but technically only…) Summer Stage director!

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