When PHS junior Alexis Daniels learned she was cast as JoJo in “Seussical,” she immediately texted her family with the announcement: “News! News! News! We have another JoJo in the family!”
Alexis is the second from her family to play the role of the imaginative 11-year-old boy who longs to be valued and loved for himself, and finds a friend in Horton. She follows her older sister, Lacey Daniels, who was cast as JoJo in the first “Seussical” to be produced at PHS in 2007.
Greg Shaw, their director, says the sisters both have a strong sense of “the allusion of the first time” on stage.
“The entire story is taking place through the imagination of a young child, so the appearance this is the first time JoJo has had these ideas is very important,” he says. “It must seem original. Both Alexis and Lacey allow themselves to experience their environment and other characters as though they have zero idea where things will end up.”
But when Alexis auditioned for “Seussical,” she had her eye on the role of JoJo and actually had rehearsed the audition cut quite a bit. She didn’t consult Lacey, nor did Lacey offer advice.
“It’s caused me to figure everything out on my own and make it original,” Alexis says.
This is the second time in a year that Alexis has played the part of a young boy; in last fall’s “Addams Family” she was Pugsley, the ornery little brother of Wednesday Addams. But this role demands a much lighter approach, with curiosity and wonder.
“I did have quite an imagination when I was younger, so I’m trying to connect with that, but also remember that I’m a boy in this show and not little Alexis,” she says.
Lacey, who got her start in theatre as a child in church musicals and elementary school plays, portrayed JoJo as a sophomore.
Like Alexis, the previous fall she also had played the part of an 11-year-old boy, in a production at Pittsburg State. She went on to play Anne in “Anne Frank” and Sandy in “Grease” her senior year.
Lacey earned a degree in English and creative writing at the University of Kansas, where theatre continued to be a part of her life; she served as stage manager for several plays.
But “Seussical” will always occupy a special place in her heart.
“It was the first time we had athletes in productions at PHS, and the first time people began to take theatre seriously,” she says. “It was pretty amazing to see this huge football player, who played Horton, sitting on a plaster tree singing his heart out. ‘Seussical’ is when barriers really started breaking down. I think it was the show that opened it up to be cool for everyone.”
“There’s such a culture there that’s so unlike anything else, unlike any other group of people you spend time around.”
Lacey won't be able to make it to the 10-year reunion for former "Seussical" cast members and cast members of other PHS musicals during Shaw's tenure, but she plans to be in the audience Thursday night.
"I know she'll be terrific," she says of Alexis.