Dr. Seuss invented a one-of-a-kind world full of enchanting scenes and unforgettable characters. Children for more than 80 years have spent their childhood engrossed in his exciting tales and whimsical illustrations.
It's a large task to bring Seuss' creations to the stage, but set designer Tim Leagjeld is up to the challenge.
Pequot Lakes Community Theater, part of the Greater Lakes Area Performing Arts, is putting the final touches on its production of the musical "Seussical," which opens Friday, Nov. 9, in the high school auditorium. The show is full of popular Dr. Seuss characters to bring to life, including Horton the Elephant, Gertrude McFuzz and the Cat in the Hat, but it also includes such iconic locations as the Jungle of Nool, Whoville and the Circus McGurkus.
When painting backdrops, building moving set pieces and piecing together props, Leagjeld stayed true to the essence of the original Seuss illustrations while also taking a few creative liberties.
"This is my take on Dr. Seuss," said Leagjeld. "His illustrations are fairly loose and open to interpretation. If you start having to copy every single pen stroke, you'd be here forever."
He said that is not as elaborate as other shows he has worked, and it lends itself to simplicity. That doesn't mean there isn't work involved, however.
"Anyone who knows me or has seen our shows knows that even if it's going to be 'simple,' if Tim does it, it's not going to be cheap and 'blah,'" said Leagjeld. "I'm going to do more."
The forested background for the Jungle of Nool, for example, went through six iterations before Leagjeld decided on the final design. Painting that design then took three separate coats of paint.
Leagjeld has never been one to skimp on detail, even for the smallest of scenes. He engineers props to suit actors' needs.
He created a bending tree branch for Horton the Elephant that could safely support the actor perched on top as well as hide an egg, and created a fork-holding slot for easy access on a cake made of carpet pad that the Cat in the Hat only uses for a few seconds during a musical number.
"I'm big on detail," said Leagjeld. "It's my thing. Especially all the little props and fun things like that."
Reusing materials in his designs is common practice for Leagjeld. For example, he turned decorative pumpkins into coconut shell tropical drinks for a past production of "Guys N' Dolls," which are now making another comeback in "Seussical."
"I always tell people helping with props, 'please don't go buying things,'" said Leagjeld. "You wouldn't believe the kind of stuff I have."
Leagjeld's house is full of items he's made for shows over the past 15 years or so. That way he has a ready supply of materials for future shows.
Leagjeld said his favorite part about working in set design is the ability to experiment.
"Unlike painting your house, which you're kind of stuck with for a while, with this you get to experiment with all these colors and textures," he said. "And when the show's over it all goes away and you start on something new in a few months."
Leagjeld has worked on the sets for around 60 shows with PLCT, starting in 1984. He acted in some shows on top of heading set design, but now chooses to focus on behind-the-scenes work.
Leagjeld has help from a couple volunteers while working on "Seussical." Carpenter Alan Olson has worked with Leagjeld and the community theater for more than 16 years, and painter Molly Krautkremer joined the team more recently.
"It's nice to have someone else here," said Leagjeld. "It motivates me."
He said that with Olson, he knows they can build anything there is a need for, and 17-year-old Krautkremer paints like an artist many years her senior.
"Seussical" is a unique show, said Leagjeld, because of the widespread connections people have with Dr. Seuss.
"Everybody seems to have grown up with the Cat in the Hat," he said.
Leagjeld's favorite Dr. Seuss book is "Happy Birthday to You," which was first published the year he was born.
"This musical is yet another iteration of the wonderful Dr. Seuss stories," he said.
When: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, Nov. 9-10 and 16-17; 2 p.m. Sundays, Nov. 11 and 18
Where: Pequot Lakes High School auditorium
Tickets: $14 for adults, $12 for seniors and $10 for youth. Buy tickets online at www.glapa.org or call Pequot Lakes Community Education at 218-568-9200.