The youthful former Olympic gymnast steps into the role created in fall 2000 by mime and movement artist David Shiner, whose final performance at the Richard Rodgers was March 11. Standby Bryan Batt played the March 14 performances. For some months, the producers have wanted a marquee name to boost box office, and they came to an arrangement to set Shiner — whose reviews from both press and the show's producers were mixed — free.
The tradition to plug stars into the show will continue when teen pop star Aaron Carter joins Seussical, as JoJo, the boy from Whoville, April 4-May 6. Rigby remains with the show indefinitely, though Rosie O'Donnell has expressed interest in returning to The Cat in the Hat role in the future. O'Donnell gave the musical a boost in January when she took over for the vacationing Shiner. A story in The New York Post March 14 indicated that Shiner's four-week absence in January was a forced vacation.
The musical by co-librettists Stephen Flaherty (who is the composer) and Lynn Ahrens (who is the lyricist) draws on stories and characters created by Dr. Seuss, the late children's story writer and illustrator. The show is produced by SFX Theatrical Group, Barry and Fran Weissler and Universal Studios.
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Rigby brings her considerable acrobatic and dance skills to the project. The former Olympic gymnast has been a smash on Broadway and tour in the musical, Peter Pan, which asked her to sing, dance, fly, tumble and act her way through a musical fantasia suitable for family audiences (not unlike Seussical). Frank Galati is credited with direction (though Rob Marshall came in as the show doctor) and Kathleen Marshall is choreographer. A cast album on the Decca Broadway label was released Feb. 6 (with Shiner as The Cat, of course).
The cast includes Janine LaManna as Gertrude McFuzz, Kevin Chamberlin as Horton the elephant, Michele Pawk as Mayzie La Bird, Anthony Blair Hall as Jo Jo). Also featured are Erick Devine (Ragtime), 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). Bryan Batt (Saturday Night Live) is Shiner's standby.
Designers are Eugene Lee (set), William Ivey Long (costumes), Natasha Katz (lighting), Jonathan Deans (sound). Tony Walton also assisted with design duties when the show was in previews. David Holcenberg is music director, David Chase is dance arranger, Doug Besterman is orchestrator. Flaherty is vocal arranger.
Rigby, the high-flying, Tony Award-nominated star of multiple Broadway engagements of Peter Pan, was puttering in the garden in California when she got a phone call from New York letting her know she was needed in Whoville.
More precisely, the call was from Barry and Fran Weissler, SFX Theatricals and Universal Studios, the producers of Seussical, the family-friendly Broadway musical that has, from its start in November 2000, been in need of a star to help anchor the show.
"I got a call about seven days ago," Rigby told Playbill On-Line March 7. "After being on the road and in New York for a pretty long time with Peter Pan, I was at home and truly just enjoying my garden, my home, being with my family and not traveling."
She admitted she hasn't followed the travails of the Lynn Ahrens-Stephen Flaherty tuner drawn from the works of kid-lit icon Dr. Seuss. "I've kind of isolated myself in my home, getting back to domestic things," she said. "They sent me the CD and I really enjoyed the music. I have four kids — they are older now — so it was intriguing, remembering all the Dr. Seuss books that I read to my children. It was interesting and inspiring. It sparked my curiosity."
Although Peter Pan and Seussical share common ideas, themes and the same playfulness, Rigby said she doesn't always seek out "family entertainment." She's played a variety of roles on tour, in stock and at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, where she and husband Tom McCoy are producers. Rigby was nominated for a Best Actress (Musical) Tony Award in 1991 for Peter Pan, and her acrobatic work was preserved in an A&E video version of the stage show — with the wires electronically erased. It has sold like hotcakes.
Since the week of Feb. 28, Rigby has been rehearsing Seussical with dance captains Joyce Chittick and Darren Lee, and working with choreographer Kathleen Marshall.
Will she bring her acrobatic physical ability to the role?
"I don't think you can help but do that," Rigby said. "One of the great things about this role is that while you keep the quality of The Cat in the Hat mysterious and impulsive and mischievous, there's lots of room for the physical."
She revealed that in the show's now somewhat famous opening image of a Seussian vortex, she will somersault down the slide to the audience — and she's got cartwheels and handstands up her sleeve later in the show.
"I swear, I'm just gonna take roles like this because it's so full of life and fun and joy," Rigby said. "Obviously, it's not as physical as Peter Pan. While The Cat in the Hat is very active, there are many times when he's just still. That's probably the hardest thing to do: Just stop and allow the moment to play without having to move. He watches a lot."
In rehearsal, Rigby has been experimenting with the creative team on new bits and characterizations, and she intends to fly high again in the Act One curtain gimmick that pulls The Cat toward the fly space when the curtain mechanism "fails."
"That's about the only flying I'll do," she previously said. "That's not a problem. I'm trying to convince them to fly me [when the Cat plays the helicopter reporter], but they can't figure out how to do that."
Is Peter Pan behind her?
"I would love always to be a little boy and have fun," she said. "I do this stuff because I really love it. If there comes a time that I wanna put on the green tights again and play the part, I wouldn't hesitate to do it. At the moment I don't have plans for it."