Look "Whos" Finally Being Heard: Seussical Is a Licensing Smash

News   Look "Whos" Finally Being Heard: Seussical Is a Licensing Smash
 
When Human Race Theatre Company's new production of Seussical begins performances in Dayton, Ohio, Dec. 1, it will be in good company.

A critical and box office flop in its 2000-01 Broadway run, the Lynn Ahrens-Stephen Flaherty musical inspired by the works of kid lit's Dr. Seuss is now rising like a phoenix — or a Lorax, in Seuss talk — to be a major title in the North American stock and amateur market.

"It's stunning," Russell Ochocki, associate director-professional licensing at Music Theatre International, told Playbill.com. "There have been in excess of 650 licenses for Seussical this year. And so far for 2006 we are at 180."

Ochocki said "this is a very large amount of bookings for a single show" and does not reflect bookings for two other planned licensable versions of Seussical — the TYA script (theatre for young audiences, performed by adults for family audiences) and Seussical Jr. (meant to be performed by kids, usually at schools).

Lyricist-librettist Lynn Ahrens told Playbill.com the popular stock and amateur script reflects rewrites made since Broadway. She and composer-librettist Stephen Flaherty worked with director Christopher Ashley on revisions for a 2002-03 Equity national tour after Broadway, and those changes are in the current MTI script and score.

(Ken Gentry produced that post-New York tour; it starred Cathy Rigby as the Cat in the Hat. There was also a subsequent non-Equity tour directed by Stafford Arima.) The hot MTI version has been seen at Equity and non-Equity professional theatres, community theatres and in schools. The TYA and Jr. versions from the licensing giant MTI are expected to explode in the coming years.

The current top titles in the MTI catalog are Beauty and the Beast, Seussical, The Music Man, Guys and Dolls, Annie and Fiddler on the Roof, according to Ochocki.

What makes Seussical such a hot property only four years after it was labeled a flopzilla by critics?

"Seussical's success is due to the huge popularity of Dr. Seuss to the fan base for Ahrens and Flaherty," Ochocki observed. "And the need for family based shows in the market place. Seussical fills a gap by having a fun show, with great parts for a lot of actors, a good number of featured and chorus roles and a very enjoyable score. Kids love to sing the numbers, and the story is not too childish to put off high school students, it offers them the perfect chance to be 'cool' characters. I have seen the show produced in every imaginable sort of venue and all of the productions were, in short, fun. And fun is what is important these days especially in the school market."

Seussical appeals to a wide age group, including not only kids but their parents, who grew up reading Seuss (or having it read to them), which helps make it what Ochocki calls "a very licensable show."

Performances by Human Race Theatre, the resident Equity company in Dayton, have been extended to Dec. 23 due to popular demand.

"Two weeks [before] opening night we extended the run of the show because many performances were sold out or very close," Human Race executive director Kevin Moore told Playbill.com. "We've been seeing great movement of tickets — families looking for something to do together this holiday season, but not the normal Nutcracker or Christmas Carol. This is one of the largest [physical] productions we've ever mounted in our 219-seat Loft Theatre. I suspected that it would have great appeal to family audiences — something The Human Race is not necessarily known for producing."

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Seussical follows the adventures of Horton, an elephant who one day hears voices coming from a speck of dust, according to Human Race production notes. "He soon discovers that within this tiny speck exists the smallest planet in the universe, populated by a tiny race of creatures known as Whos. Although ridiculed by the other animals in the Jungle of Nool for believing in something he cannot see, Horton stubbornly persists in his belief that the Whos exist."

Meanwhile, "the citizens of Who are having some adventures of their own, including a war over which side of the bread gets buttered. JoJo, the smallest child in the city of Who, parallels Horton's journey as he is ostracized for the unpopular act of thinking — an activity not encouraged by the parents and teachers of Whoville. In spite of these obstacles, JoJo and Horton attempt to do what they think is right. However, their path is not easy. Horton is sold to the Circus McGurkus and eventually stands trial in Judge Yertle the Turtle's court before the other animals of the jungle come to understand, as Horton has always known, that 'a person's a person, no matter how small.'"

The Cat in the Hat is the guide to the show, "narrating, playing numerous characters and helping the younger audience members keep track of what's going on."

Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens won the Tony Award for their score to Ragtime and also penned songs for the stage musicals Once On This Island, Dessa Rose, Lucky Stiff, My Favorite Year and A Man of No Importance, as well as the animated film "Anastasia." They conceived Seussical with Eric Idle.

Joe Deer, head of the Wright State University Musical Theatre program, directs and choreographs the Ohio staging at The Loft Theatre in Dayton. Gerald Rheault is musical director.

The Human Race cast of Seussical includes Zachary Boyd (JoJo Understudy), Mark Chmiel (The Cat in the Hat), Deb Colvin-Tener (Mrs. Mayor), Kelly Corken (Mr. Mayor), Christian Delcroix (Wickersham Brother), Janet Dickinson (Mayzie La Bird), Jarod Garel (JoJo), Abeku Bomani Hayes (Wickersham Brother), Alan Bomar Jones (General Gengus Khan Schmitz), Mischa Kischkum (The Grinch, Judge Yertle the Turtle, Vlad Vladikoff), Meegan Midkiff (Bird Girl), Katie Pees (Gertrude McFuzz), Sarah Stair (Bird Girl), Scott Stoney (Horton the Elephant), Danielle K. Thomas (Sour Kangaroo), Aaron Vega (Wickersham Brother) and Anna-Lee Wright (Bird Girl).

The creative team includes Mark Halpin (scenic and properties designer), Jeff Shearer (costume designer), John Rensel (lighting designer), Todd M. Reischman (sound designer), Christian Duhamel (assistant musical director), Tristan Cupp and Carol Finley (puppet designers) and Elizabeth Grunenwald (production stage manager).

For information, call (937) 228-3630 or (888) 228-3630, or visit www.humanracetheatre.org.

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The Human Race is under the direction of artistic director Marsha Hanna and executive director Kevin Moore.

Seussical's Broadway cast album is on the Decca label.

For information about Music Theatre International, visit www.mtishows.com.

The cast of the Human Race Theatre Company's production of <i>Seussical</i>.
The cast of the Human Race Theatre Company's production of Seussical. Photo by Scott J. Kimmins
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