Rigby to Think Lovely Thinks as Cat in 2002-03 Seussical Tour; Ashley Courted

News   Rigby to Think Lovely Thinks as Cat in 2002-03 Seussical Tour; Ashley Courted Christopher Ashley, the director known for his antic productions of The Rocky Horror Show on Broadway and Wonder of the World and The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told Off-Broadway, is being courted to direct the revised national tour of Seussical, the Musical, set to begin September 2002 with Cathy Rigby as The Cat in the Hat.

Cathy Rigby.
Cathy Rigby.

Christopher Ashley, the director known for his antic productions of The Rocky Horror Show on Broadway and Wonder of the World and The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told Off-Broadway, is being courted to direct the revised national tour of Seussical, the Musical, set to begin September 2002 with Cathy Rigby as The Cat in the Hat.

McCoy-Rigby Entertainment is partnering with NETworks for the 10-month tour. The 2000 show — a Broadway flop that was beloved by a good chunk of the audience — will be re examined by creators Lynn Ahrens (book and lyrics) and Stephen Flaherty (book and music), who are said to want to return to their original vision for the show, before show doctors were brought in to treat the perceived-as-ailing patient. The musical, drawing on characters and stories created by Dr. Seuss, was raved-about following Toronto workshops, but by the time it played an out of town tryout in Boston and landed on Broadway, critics and some audiences were left frustrated. Producers Barry and Fran Weissler got nervous following a sharply negative review in Boston and brought in Rob Marshall to take over for director Frank Galati in New York previews.

Observers see the material as a gold-mine, rich with characters that both child and adult audiences adore, from the Cat in the Hat to Horton the Elephant to the Whos of Whoville.

"Cathy and I were excited about it," said producer Tom McCoy, whose wife, Cathy Rigby, joined the Broadway company late in the seventh-month Broadway run. "I think everyone recognizes that the Broadway production — between its readings to Boston to New York — ran into some roadblocks. Lynn and Stephen understand that and want to make the necessary adjustments..."

Producer Ken Gentry of NETworks told Playbill On-Line that Christopher Ashley is being sought as the director for the Equity tour. A choreographer and designers have not yet been named. Seussical, the Musical will rehearse at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, the community-owned California theatre where McCoy is the in-house producer, in August-September 2002. Because of booking logistics, it ships out in September 2002 and will not play La Mirada until the close of the tour, June 2003.

Gentry stressed that NETworks is excited about the material, but the creators and producers will take another look at how the material is structured.

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Seussical — the Broadway musical that won three Drama Desk Award nominations and a Tony Award nomination for actor Kevin Chamberlin, but opted to close on May 20 after 197 performances and 34 previews — received a warm farewell at its last performance. Joining composers Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, one-time Cat in the Hat standby Bryan Batt, and producers Fran and Barry Weissler in the audience were what sounded like the troubled tuner's biggest supporters. The crowd greeted the entrances of Chamberlin, Cathy Rigby, Janine LaManna, Michele Pawk and other stars of the production with applause so loud it was nearly impossible to hear the lyrics of the opening number.

LaManna seemed particularly popular with the audience, earning such a lengthy and tumultuous response to her second act number, "All for You," that the actress had to cut it short with a slashing motion across her throat. At the curtain call, Chamberlin thanked the crowd for making the cast's final performance a special one. He also called Ahrens and Flaherty to the stage. After Flaherty embraced Rigby, the former gymnast coaxed the composer into a handstand, which he sustained only with the Olympian's assistance.

The actors couldn't resist having some fun at the expense of the Weisslers, who pulled the plug on the show May 16. During the scene in which Rigby's Cat in the Hat auctions off Chamberlin's Horton the Elephant, eliciting bids from theatregoers, the actress concluded the routine saying, "Sold to the man in the sideburns and the greasy moustache!" Rigby then paused and eyed the winning bidder more closely. "Sorry, Mrs. Weissler," she apologized. Chamberlin, apparently taken aback by the nonsequitur, signaled his approval by giving Rigby a thumbs up.

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The Ahrens-Flaherty musical, at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, was once a hotly-anticipated musical with good buzz and high expectations: A musical recycling of a slew of Dr. Seuss stories seen through the lens of the Ragtime songwriters seemed like such a sure thing following early workshops. The show was first cooked up by impresario Garth Drabinsky (producer of Ragtime and Show Boat, among others) and was meant to be a Livent project, but Livent fell apart financially.

Cast and observers raved about the early workshops and readings work and SFX, Barry and Fran Weissler and Universal Studios took control of the show after the implosion of Livent.

But during its later development, the family-friendly show became a critic's favorite target.

Seussical opened on Broadway Nov. 30, 2000, after an out of town tryout in Boston, where a blistering pan in The Boston Globe seemed to be the beginning of troubles. Contrary to the widely held notion that audience word of mouth was negative from the beginning and that gossips and show freaks fueled the flames of the show's demise from the outset, Playbill On-Line noted late summer 2000 that internet chat rooms had many glowing reports and reviews from fans and theatregoers who caught the tryout. However, the Globe dismissal seemed to send a shock wave out, and the echo came back that this once golden project was now "a show in trouble."

In August and September 2000, the costume designer, Catherine Zuber, was fired and replaced by William Ivey Long, the scenic design by Eugene Lee was tweaked and enhanced by Tony Walton, and, by October, producers Barry and Fran Weissler hired director-choreographer Rob Marshall to bring a fresh pair of eyes (a show biz euphemism) to director Frank Galati's staging. Rob's sister, Kathleen Marshall, was the initial choreographer. Galati (Ragtime, The Grapes of Wrath) left Manhattan for his home turf of Chicago, where his work has been embraced at the Goodman Theatre and Steppenwolf Theatre.

TV personality Rosie O'Donnell was a booster of the show and stepped in for month in early 2001, briefly replacing mime and movement artist David Shiner, as the Cat in the Hat. The Weisslers were quoted in papers saying Shiner was gifted but wrong for the show. Shiner and the producers came to an arrangement in February 2001, allowing him to leave the show. A cast album preserves the work of the company.

Aaron Carter, the blond pop-singing heartthrob of the barely teen set, jumped into Seussical March 30 (playing Jo Jo, a boy of Whoville) and lured a new audience into the Rodgers. Both O'Donnell and Carter stimulated the box office, but not in a way that had lasting impact.

Seussical earned three Drama Desk nominations, for Outstanding Actor in a Musical (Kevin Chamberlin), Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical (Janine LaManna) and Outstanding Music (Stephen Flaherty). The already demoralized company was disappointed to hear there was only one Tony Award nomination for the show: Best Actor in a Musical, for Chamberlin.