Rosie O'Donnell, a vocal booster of Broadway's Seussical, the musical, will play the show's narrator, The Cat in the Hat, for four weeks Jan. 16-Feb. 10, she announced on her TV talk show Dec. 13.
O'Donnell will be donating the profits from her 24-performance run to charity. The musical drawing on the stories and characters of children's writer-illustrator Dr. Seuss is produced by Barry and Fran Weissler, who took a chance on comedian O'Donnell in the 1990s and cast her in their smash revival of Grease!
The TV talk diva will play the Cat six shows a week with Bryan Batt playing the other performances, the show's press rep confirmed. David Shiner, who opened as the Cat, will be on vacation with his family, and returns Feb. 13.
The Seuss tuner, with songs and libretto by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, opened at the Richard Rodgers Theatre Nov. 30. O'Donnell has enthusiastically praised and celebrated the family-friendly show on her popular daytime talk program, "The Rosie O'Donnell Show." The company has performed numbers on the show several times. On Dec. 13, Kevin Chamberlin, who plays Horton the Elephant, was a "Rosie" guest and asked her if she would don the cat's hat. She accepted the pre-planned invite.
O'Donnell, who moved from standup comedy to films to her syndicated, New York-based TV program, will play Seussical 8 PM Tuesday-Saturday and 2 PM Wednesday. Batt (late of Saturday Night Fever) will play matinees Saturday and Sunday. The casting coup is a major shot in the arm for a show that has been muddied by negative press and bad word of mouth since its Boston tryout in August.
Along with the Weisslers, the show's producers are SFX Theatrical Group and Universal Studios.
For ticket information, call (212) 307-4100. The Richard Rodgers is at 226 W. 46th Street.
Horton the Elephant is "the biggest blame fool in the Jungle of Nool," they sing in the Seussical — all because he hears the cries of the people on a tiny planet called Who, which is the size of a dust speck.
Gertrude McFuzz, a bird with a tiny tail, is Horton's next door neighbor, and she wishes she were more exotic so Horton might "notice" her.
JoJo is a boy on Who who thinks too many "thinks" and is sent off the Army.
Mayzie LaBird is a diva with voluptuous plumage who finds herself caring for an egg she never expected to have — so she asks Horton to hatch it while she feathers nests elsewhere.
Need we mention The Cat in the Hat?
For the new show, librettist-songwriters Ahrens (lyrics) and Flaherty (music) opened a trunk of stories written and illustrated by late kid lit genius, Dr. Seuss, who was born Theodor Geisel. Ahrens and Flaherty, Tony Award-winners for the score to Ragtime, mixed and matched characters and created a world where the stories could collide and mesh in a way that allowed for humanity, morals, ideas and "thinks" to burble up in bright colors.
There have been bumps along the way: Costume designer Catherine Zuber was replaced by William Ivey Long before the first tryout performance, director Frank Galati's work (and choreographer Kathleen Marshall's musical staging) was augmented by director-choreographer Rob Marshall (Little Me, TV's "Annie"), and the scenic elements by Eugene Lee were tweaked by Tony Walton.
Galati, who has the musical, The Visit, on his 2001 plate, went home to Chicago, where he is a popular, award winning resident director and an associate with both the Goodman Theatre and Steppenwolf. He won two Tony Awards in 1990 for adapting and directing The Grapes of Wrath.
Producers Barry and Fran Weissler, SFX Theatrical Group and Universal said Marshall was being brought in "to lend an additional pair of eyes" to the show. Rob Marshall did not have opening night credit in Playbill.
Previews at the Rodgers began Nov. 1, and there have been some cuts, changes and clarifications (common with new works finding their footing): A reprise of "Alone in the Universe," one of the plaintive ballads in the score, was trimmed from the second act, and "Our Story Begins" and "Our Story Resumes" (in Act One and Two, respectively) were cut out of the opening week Playbill after three weeks of previews.
Also added in previews was a rousing new "Green Eggs and Ham" dance number for the curtain call.
The opening night musical numbers are:
"Oh, the Thinks You Can Think"
"Horton Hears a Who"
"Biggest Blame Fool"
"Here on Who"
"A Day For the Cat in the Hat"
"It's Possible" (McElligot's Pool)
"How to Raise a Child"
"Alone in the Universe"
"The One-Feather Tale of Miss Gertrude McFuzz"
"Chasing the Whos"
"How Lucky You Are"
"Notice Me, Horton"
"How Lucky You Are" (reprise)
"How Lucky You Are"
"Egg, Nest and Tree"
"The Circus McGurkus"
"The Circus on Tour"
"Mayzie in Palm Beach"
"The Who's Christmas Pageant"
"A Message From the Front"
"Havin' a Hunch"
"All For You"
"The People Versus Horton the Elephant"
"Finale"/"Oh, The Thinks You Can Think!"
In order to implement changes being made in rehearsals, Seussical began two weeks later than originally planned. The show had various first-preview dates of Oct. 18, 29 and 30.
The aborning new musical borrows stories and characters from the many books written and illustrated by Theodor Geisel, whose pen name was Dr. Seuss. Ahrens and Flaherty share book credit and conception (it was conceived with "Monty Python" vet Eric Idle, who did not write the libretto with them).
Rehearsals began in Manhattan July 10 for Seussical. Theatrical clown David Shiner (Fool Moon) wears the candy-cane striped chapeau of The Cat in the Hat, Janine LaManna is Gertrude McFuzz and Kevin Chamberlin is Horton the elephant.
Chamberlin, a Tony Award nominee for Dirty Blonde, left that hit show in early July to recreate Horton, his role in Seussical workshops.
Featured are Erick Devine (Ragtime), Eddie Korbich (Assassins), Alice Playten (Oliver!), Sharon Wilkins (The Life) and Stuart Zagnit (the Public's Wild Party). Also appearing are Shaun Amyot, Joyce Chittick (Cabaret), Jennifer Cody (MTC Wild Party), Natascia Diaz (Bright Lights, Big City), David Engel (Forever Plaid), Sarah Gettelfinger, Justin Greer (Annie Get Your Gun), Ann Harada (The Moment When), Jenny Hill, Catrice Joseph, Michelle Kittrell, Mary Ann Lamb (Fosse, Chicago), Darren Lee (Kiss Me, Kate), David Lowenstein, Monique Midgette, Casey Nicholaw (Saturday Night Fever), Tom Plotkin (Footloose), Devin Richards (Jesus Christ Superstar), William Ryall (Grand Hotel), Jerome Vivona (Kiss Me, Kate) and Eric Jordan Young (Ragtime).
Designers are Eugene Lee (set), William Ivey Long (costumes), Natasha Katz (lighting), Jonathan Deans (sound). David Holcenberg is music director, David Chase is dance arranger, Doug Besterman is orchestrator. Flaherty is vocal arranger.
In Boston, Aug. 27-Sept. 24, the show got mixed-to-unfriendly reviews in Boston (particularly from critic Ed Siegel of The Boston Globe) after its opening there Sept. 6. Performances were originally to go to Sept. 17, but the two-week extension was announced. The show pulled out of Boston Sept. 24, a week earlier than the extension promised.
Tickets are $50-$85. The Richard Rodgers Theatre is at 226 W. 46th Street in Manhattan. For tickets, call (212) 307-4100. Visit the web site at www.seussical.com.