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Forsyth County special education students to star in ‘Seussical, Jr.’ coming to FoCAL Center
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Tyler Harris, playing the Cat in the Hat, practices the opening number of “Seussical, Jr.” with his mentor, Sean Wilson. - photo by Sabrina Kerns

Forsyth County special education students are hitting the main stage at the FoCAL Center for the second time to show off their musical talents in an upcoming production of “Seussical, Jr.”

Running from Jan. 19-22, “Seussical, Jr.” will be the second production brought to the FoCAL Center through the Penguin Project, a program that casts shows with actors and artists with special needs.

The actors are paired with typical peers and mentors who perform with them on stage, but the production still gives Forsyth County’s special education high school students the reins to be the star of the show.

This year, the talent is coming out in full force with a high-energy, loud and colorful performance.

“‘Seussical, Jr.’ is kind of a hodgepodge of all the really popular [Dr. Seuss] stories with ‘Horton Hears a Who’ being the main theme throughout it,” Director Laurin Dunleavy said.

Cast members all play a variety of classic Dr. Seuss characters like the Cat in the Hat and Sour Kangaroo, bringing the books to life through a musical extravaganza written by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty.

Set in colorful spaces from the Jungle of Nool to the Circus McGurkus, the Cat in the Hat narrates the story of Horton the Elephant as he discovers a speck of dust containing tiny people called the Whos. He soon learns he must protect the Whos from a world of danger as he also guards an egg left behind by Mayzie La Bird.

Although he faces ridicule, and even a trial, Gertrude McFuzz never loses faith in the struggling elephant.

Forsyth County students Tyler Harris and Jack Coggin star in the production as the Cat in the Hat and Horton the Elephant, respectively. Harris said he can’t wait for the community to come see the show and watch him perform in his favorite dance number, “It’s Possible.”

But his favorite line from the play comes from the song, “The People Versus Horton the Elephant,” where the Cat in the Hat serves as a court marshal, speaking to the jury and Judge Yertle the Turtle.

“As the court marshal, I get to say, ‘The defendant is charged with talking to a speck, disturbing the peace and loitering … on an egg.’”

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The cast of the upcoming “Seussical, Jr.” at the FoCAL Center practices the opening number during a rehearsal on Tuesday, Jan. 10. - photo by Sabrina Kerns

Dunleavy said she is excited to be working on another Penguin Project production after serving as the choreographer in FoCAL’s “Annie, Jr.” last year. Now being a director, she said everyone from the parents and mentors to the actors have been involved in forming the vision for the show.

More than anything, she said it’s been amazing to see how much the actors and mentors, many of whom don’t have a background in theater, have grown over the past year and through their recent rehearsals.

“They’re a lot more confident, [the mentors] know how to work with their artists and support them, and then the artists feel a lot more confident earlier on because of that,” Dunleavy said. “It’s special.”

Sean Wilson, Harris’ mentor who also worked as a mentor on “Annie, Jr.” last year, said opening the production to those without a theater background creates a more inviting and inclusive environment.

Dunleavy warned those planning to come to a show to make sure they stay to the very end.

At the end of every rehearsal and every show, Penguin Project crews across the U.S. perform a dance choreographed by the foundation to the song, “Don’t Stop Believing.”

“They love it,” Dunleavy said. “It’s just something that brings everybody together, and the parents often get up and do it. I just love that we end like that every time.”

“Seussical, Jr.” will debut on Thursday, Jan. 19, and run through Sunday, Jan. 22, with shows starting at 7:30 p.m. and at 2 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets can be purchased at the FoCAL Center or online at They are $15 each for adults and $10 for students.

The FoCAL Center is located at 1150 Dahlonega Highway in Cumming behind the Forsyth County Board of Education building.