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Broken Arrow special needs students star in 'Seussical Kids' performance

Penguin Project: Seussical Kids
Posted at 3:14 PM, Jan 13, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-14 08:09:27-05

BROKEN ARROW, Okla. — The curtain is rising in Broken Arrow on a show unlike any other in the city's history.

"This whole show is great. I'm glad to be here," says Cooper Manuel, who plays "Cat One" in this production of "Seussical Kids."

Cooper is one of nearly three dozen Broken Arrow students ready for the spotlight. Noah Uphold is another.

"I love Doctor Seuss books, and the show is so, so amazing," Noah says.

What makes this production so unique is its stars.

"This production stars individuals with special needs along with their peer mentors in a fully staged musical," says Tammy Slack, Executive Director of the Clark Youth Theatre.

The show is part of a national program called the Penguin Project. A doctor in Illinois started it nearly 20 years ago, and seven years ago, Clark Youth Theatre brought the program to Tulsa and is now partnering with Broken Arrow Public Schools for the first time.

"It's a goal of ours to get kids in this theatre that aren't normally here on stage performing," says Kim Vento with the Broken Arrow Performing Arts Center.

"But to have differently-abled kids on stage being the artist and the stars of the show has really knocked us off our feet."

For the past five months, the kids have been hard at work — each sharing song, dance, and smiles with their Peer Mentor. The Peer Mentors are also students who guide the artists through the performance.

"A Peer Mentor helps them learn the lines, all the songs, and they are actually their understudy," Slack says.

Throughout this journey, this cast has become a community.

Artist Loretta Read says her favorite part of the experience has been "singing, dancing, and friends."

Her mom, Lisa Read, says the program has been a blessing.

"We were really excited that Broken Arrow was putting this on. It meant she could make some friends and actually perform in a production. She's always wanted to do theatre; she's always wanted to dance and sing. She loves it. I'm grateful she has the opportunity to do that," Lisa Read says.

"It just really makes you appreciate that everybody has a chance to fly, specifically our 'Penguins' to places we didn't ever think they would," Vento says.

The Penguin Project is a witty, wacky, wonderful musical production reminding us all that anything is possible.

"It'll be a good show tonight," says Cooper.

"Come. It is pure joy. You can't miss this show," says Slack.

The show runs all weekend at the Broken Arrow Performing Arts Center. Find tickets and times here.

See this full story FRIDAY on 2 News Oklahoma at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.

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