Following the 2002-03 Equity tour of the family-friendly musical, which was directed by Christopher Ashley, NETworks will produce the multi-city non-union tour with direction by Stafford Arima, who was associate director for the Broadway run and recently staged a reconceived Ragtime in London's West End. Patti Wilcox handles Seussical's musical staging.
The latest tour version of the script will be used, Arima told Playbill On-Line, though the frame of the show will be different than Ashley's conception.
The story will now begin in the bedroom of the boy, JoJo, who is invited into a world of boundless imagination by The Cat in the Hat. Whereas Ashley used a white box to represent the storage and liberation of the imagination, Arima will use all the characters, each handling actual books, to impact the young central character, JoJo.
Designers are James Kronzer (set), Kirk Bookman (lighting) and Brian Ronan (sound). The costume designer will be announced. Catherine Zuber and William Ivey Long designed costumes for the 2000-01 pre-Broadway and Broadway stagings, David Woolard designed the recent tour, which had Cathy Rigby as The Cat in the Hat. The new national tour has bookings around the country through March 21, 2004.
Choreographer Wilcox's credits include North Shore Music Theatre's Smokey Joe's Cafe, the New York revival of Blues in the Night, and productions throughout the country and Europe.
Seussical the Musical, a 2000-01 Broadway flop that, in that season, became a critic's favorite target, a musical theatre fan's heartbreak and a child's dream come true, went back to the old drawing board for the national tour that launched Sept. 17, 2002, in Indianapolis.
What were the goals of Ahrens, Flaherty and new-to-the show director Ashley?
"We talked about a rewrite that focuses the center story," Ashley told Playbill On-Line in 2002, "because I think all of us agreed that one of things about previous productions and previous drafts was, there was an incredible amount of good material, but it was hard to figure out whose journey we were watching and where we were emotionally — what's the center of the story?"
Like Ahrens, Flaherty and Terrence McNally's Ragtime before it, Seussical told multiple tales, this time of JoJo the boy, the residents of Whoville, Horton and Gertrude McFuzz and the show's ringleader, The Cat in the Hat.
"The center of that story was hard to get ahold of in previous drafts," Ashley explained. "We agreed early on that the first image of this production would be a kid walking out of the audience and seeing a hat on a bare stage, and the first action of it is, he imagines what would happen if there was a cat in that hat."
JoJo emerges as the center of the show more clearly now, Ashley said in 2002.
The Broadway original was directed in its tryout by Frank Galati who was replaced on Broadway by director choreographer Rob Marshall. In the Playbill, Kathleen Marshall was the choreographer of record and Galati the director.
Ashley said that 20 percent of the score was new for the 2002-03 tour and one song ("A Day for the Cat in the Hat") had been cut.
"An immense amount of the dance music has been cut," Ashley added at the time. "We really committed to leaning on word and lyric as the storytelling mostly because the movement is closer to Mummenschanz or Pilobolus than it is to Broadway step dancing."
The Ahrens-Flaherty musical was once a hotly-anticipated musical with good buzz and high expectations. 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. Barry and Fran Weissler took over the project, with partners SFX and Universal Studios.
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."
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. Aaron Carter, the blond pop-singing heartthrob of the barely teen set, jumped into Seussical March 30, 2001, playing JoJo.