Things are looking Rosie-r at Seussical. The once struggling musical welcomes talk show hostess and former Grease! star Rosie O'Donnell into the ranks of Whos Jan. 16 when she dons the striped hat of the Cat in the Hat.
O’Donnell told TV viewers about her monthlong gig Dec. 13, saying she’d donate her salary from her 24-performance run to charity. The TV talk diva will play the Cat six shows a week with Bryan Batt playing the other performances, the show's press reps at Barlow-Hartman confirmed.
David Shiner, who opened to mostly negative reviews as the Cat, will be on vacation with his family in Germany and is scheduled to return to the show Feb. 13. Shiner had been faulted for his lack of song and dance skills both in the press and by the producers themselves. (Barry Weissler was previously quoted in the Times as saying, “He can’t sing, he can’t dance, he’s never really acted before — he’s fabulous.”) Ironically, O’Donnell has never been shy in admitting that her own vocal and terpsichorean skills are severely limited, though her comic persona and TV popularity are, assumedly, the draw for audiences.
Seussical, 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! O’Donnell told the Times, “When Fran told me a few days ago that they were having a hard time selling tickets, I said, 'Well, I’ll come in, if you want, and then maybe we can make it.'”
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.
O'Donnell's stint ends Feb. 10. For ticket information, call (212) 307-4100. The Richard Rodgers is at 226 W. 46th Street.
In the day since Rosie O'Donnell, a vocal booster of Broadway's Seussical, announced that she would step in as the show's narrator, The Cat in the Hat, for four weeks Jan. 16-Feb. 10, the box office has responded strongly, according to the New York Times. The show had apparently been averaging $40-80,000 a day; but the O’Donnell stint has pushed that up to $148,000. “She loves the show,” producer Barry Weissler told the Times (Dec. 14), “and we love her in the show.”
A spokesperson at the Barlow-Hartman press office told Playbill On-Line he could not confirm the box offices figures, nor would the producers be “releasing any specific sales numbers, [however] we’re very happy with the effect she’s had on our sales.”
For the week ending Dec. 10 (three days before the O'Donnell announcement), Seussical grossed $466,960, up more than $75K from the previous week. The assumption is that O'Donnell is being brought in to boost tickets sales after Xmas/New Year's, perhaps the toughest time of the year for struggling shows to hang on.