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Cooper D'Ambrose (right) talks with 10th-grader Pierce Jensen at play practice. (Bulletin photo by Patricia Drey Busse)

Seuss favorites play on East Ridge stage

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St. Paul Park native Cooper D'Ambrose, now a professional actor in New York City, returned home temporarily to a simpler existence replete with driveable roads, a slower pace of life and even green eggs and ham.

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D'Ambrose came back to co-direct the East Ridge High School play "Seussical: The Musical," the school's first play which debuts Nov. 6.

"One of the best things about working with students and kids is that they still have a large part of their imaginations, which so many adults seem to lose or forget about," he said. "It's called a play for a reason -- because we're playing. It's easy to have a lot of fun."

Fun notwithstanding acting is a serious pursuit for D'Ambrose, son of professional actors Barbara Kingsley and Stephen D'Ambrose of St. Paul Park, who are currently touring with a production of "August: Osage County."

Cooper D'Ambrose went to the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, N.C., graduated in 2006, and has been living in New York City ever since. He's been consistently working, he said, touring nationally and internationally with "Scooby-Doo Live in Stagefright," acting in several Shakespeare productions and even playing the role of Rollins, the governor's assistant in the soap opera "Guiding Light."

D'Ambrose has seen a lot of stages in his day, but he said the new theater at East Ridge High School puts many of them to shame.

"Never once have I seen a high school, let alone most colleges, that have the capabilities this theater has," he said. "This community is lucky. I was impressed, very impressed."

The audience will be impressed, D'Ambrose said, not only with their surroundings, but the show about "imagination and childhood innocence" onstage.

"I don't know one person off the top of my head that doesn't enjoy Dr. Seuss," he said.

"Seussical: The Musical" is a merging of 18 Dr. Seuss favorites, such as "Horton Hears a Who," "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," "The Lorax," "Green Eggs and Ham," the "Cat in the Hat" and "One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish." Even though there are numerous plot lines intertwined, the overarching plot has Horton trying to protect the people of Whoville.

East Ridge High School theater director Amanda Hestwood said her students have been exceptional in bringing these beloved childhood characters to life.

"The students have really been embracing it," she said. "They're inspired and excited."

Hestwood said she picked the play because of its universality.

"We didn't know who was going to walk in the door, so I wanted to do a play that is family friendly, has name recognition and that would be a lot of fun," she said. "And Dr. Seuss has so many themes that people can relate to -- whether you're a child or not."

Children are encouraged to bring their Dr. Seuss books for the cast to autograph.

Amber Kispert contributed to this report

If you go

The East Ridge High School production of "Seussical: The Musical" will be presented at the school's Loft Stage. An opening gala will be held at 6 p.m., with the show starting at 7:15 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 6. Tickets for the gala are $20 for adults, $15 for students. Other showtimes are 7 p.m. on Nov. 7, 13 and 14, and 2 p.m. on Nov. 8, 14 and 15. Tickets are $7 for students and seniors, and $9 for adults if purchased in advance. To purchase in advance, go online at www.theloftstage.com or call (651) 768-2416. The price increases $1 when tickets are purchased at the door.

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