By Kenneth Jones
30 Nov 2000
|Photo by Photo by Joan Marcus|
Horton the Elephant is "the biggest blame fool in the Jungle of Nool," they sing in the Seussical — all because he hears the cries of the people on a tiny planet called Who, which is the size of a dust speck.
Gertrude McFuzz, a bird with a tiny tail, is Horton's next door neighbor, and she wishes she were more exotic so Horton might "notice" her.
JoJo is a boy on Who who thinks too many "thinks" and is sent off the Army.
Need we mention The Cat in the Hat?
All of these Dr. Seuss characters, and many more, come together on Broadway Nov. 30, when Seussical, the musical, opens at the Richard Rodgers Theatre after a month of previews and a late-summer tryout in Boston.
For the new show, librettist-songwriters Lynn Ahrens (lyrics) and Stephen Flaherty (music) opened a trunk of stories written and illustrated by late kid lit genius, Dr. Seuss, who was born Theodor Geisel. Ahrens and Flaherty, Tony Award-winners for the score to Ragtime, mixed and matched characters and created a world where the stories could collide and mesh in a way that allowed for humanity, morals, ideas and "thinks" to burble up in bright colors.
There have been bumps along the way: Costume designer Catherine Zuber was replaced by William Ivey Long before the first tryout performance, director Frank Galati's work (and choreographer Kathleen Marshall's musical staging) was augmented by director-choreographer Rob Marshall (Little Me, TV's "Annie"), and the scenic elements by Eugene Lee were tweaked by Tony Walton.
Galati, who has the musical, The Visit, on his 2001 plate, went home to Chicago, where he is a popular, award-winning resident director and an associate with both the Goodman Theatre and Steppenwolf. He won two Tony Awards in 1990 for adapting and directing The Grapes of Wrath.
Producers Barry and Fran Weissler, SFX Theatrical Group and Universal said Marshall was being brought in "to lend an additional pair of eyes" to the show. Marshall does not have title page Playbill credit.
Previews at the Rodgers began Nov. 1, and there have been some cuts, changes and clarifications (common with new works finding their footing): A reprise of "Alone in the Universe," one of the plaintive ballads in the score, was trimmed from the second act, and "Our Story Begins" and "Our Story Resumes" (in Act One and Two, respectively) were cut out of the opening week Playbill after three weeks of previews.
Also added in previews was a rousing new "Green Eggs and Ham" dance number for the curtain call.
The opening night musical numbers are:
"Oh, the Thinks You Can Think"
"Horton Hears a Who"
"Biggest Blame Fool"
"Here on Who"
"A Day For the Cat in the Hat"
"It's Possible" (McElligot's Pool)
"How to Raise a Child"
"Alone in the Universe"
"The One-Feather Tale of Miss Gertrude McFuzz"
"Chasing the Whos"
"How Lucky You Are"
"Notice Me, Horton"
"How Lucky You Are" (reprise)
"How Lucky You Are"
"Egg, Nest and Tree"
"The Circus McGurkus"
"The Circus on Tour"
"Mayzie in Palm Beach"
"The Who's Christmas Pageant"
"A Message From the Front"
"Havin' a Hunch"
"All For You"
"The People Versus Horton the Elephant"
"Finale"/"Oh, The Thinks You Can Think!"
In order to implement changes being made in rehearsals, Seussical began two weeks later than originally planned. The show had various first-preview dates of Oct. 18, 29 and 30.
The aborning new musical borrows stories and characters from the many books written and illustrated by Theodor Geisel, whose pen name was Dr. Seuss. Ahrens and Flaherty share book credit and conception (it was conceived with "Monty Python" vet Eric Idle, who did not write the libretto with them).
Rehearsals began in Manhattan July 10 for Seussical. Theatrical clown David Shiner (Fool Moon) wears the candy-cane striped chapeau of The Cat in the Hat, Janine LaManna is Gertrude McFuzz and Kevin Chamberlin is Horton the elephant.
Chamberlin, a Tony Award nominee for Dirty Blonde, left that hit show in early July to recreate Horton, his role in Seussical workshops.
Featured are Erick Devine (Ragtime), Eddie Korbich (Assassins), 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).
Designers are Eugene Lee (set), William Ivey Long (costumes), Natasha Katz (lighting), Jonathan Deans (sound). David Holcenberg is music director, David Chase is dance arranger, Doug Besterman is orchestrator. Flaherty is vocal arranger.
In Boston, Aug. 27-Sept. 24, the show got mixed-to-unfriendly reviews (particularly from critic Ed Siegel of The Boston Globe) after its opening there Sept. 6. Performances were originally to go to Sept. 17, but the two-week extension was announced. The show pulled out of Boston Sept. 24, a week earlier than the extension promised.
Director Frank Galati defined the show for theatrical press during an Aug. 9 "open rehearsal" by cautioning that the show is not a revue and it is not an anthology of the works of the late Theodor S. Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss).
Galati, 56, called it "a contemporary re-imagining" of the tales and characters, including Horton the Elephant, the people of Whoville, the Grinch, the Wickersham Brothers, the Lorax and others.
Ahrens and Flaherty had access to most of the stories and characters created by the limerick-happy Seuss, whose playful verse bends English into sweet pretzels of rhyme and wonderment. The project was initiated several years ago by Garth Drabinsky at Livent.
It was Dr. Seuss who wrote, "Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the THINKS you can think up, if only you try."
At an Aug. 9 gathering, Ahrens told Playbill On-Line: "He's a great poet, he's a lyricist. To honor his work and to sort of make it my own I took his words as a leaping off point for where we wanted to take the show. It's very different than the books in many ways, but I think that the language is synchronous. His widow [Audrey Geisel] came to see the workshop up in Toronto and she told me she couldn't tell where his words ended and mine began, which was wonderful."
Did Ahrens, like Dr. Seuss, create words?
"Absolutely!" she said. "Whenever you come to the point when you need a good rhyme, and there's no good rhymes in the dictionary, you make one up. It's fabulous."
And unlike her previous effort with Flaherty and Galati, Ragtime, she was able to plunder all the lip-curling "oose" rhymes in the universe, because "oose" rhymes with "Seuss." "Mother Goose" was one such rhyme heard in the Aug. 9 studio excerpts.
"I am almost at the end of my 'oose' rhymes, and I don't know what's next..." said Ahrens.
Early in the process of the show, when the project was still under the umbrella of the now-defunct Livent, comic actor-writer Eric Idle, Ahrens and Flaherty pounded out ideas about what the project should or could be. Idle has co-conceiver credit but not book credit.
Ahrens said, "We juggled and talked and decided who the main characters were; it was a boiling down. We knew that 'Horton Hears a Who' and the Horton stories were gonna be the main gist of it because there was so much stuff thrown in there: There was a big world, a little world, a child, a romance, all sorts of things."
Geisel, born in 1904, wrote 44 books and won the Pulitzer Prize, two Emmy Awards and three Academy Awards. Among Dr. Seuss' famous stories are "Green Eggs and Ham," "Horton Hears a Who," "The Cat in the Hat," "The Lorax," "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," "The Sneetches," "McElligot's Pool," "Oh, the Places You'll Go!," "Yertle the Turtle," and more.
Shiner, a German resident for years, was born in the U.S. but began his performing career about 20 years ago on the streets of Paris, Rome and London. He performed in the German National and Swiss National circuses. In between gigs would tour in a two-man show with partner Rene Bazinet. He has performed in North America with Cirque de Soleil, in Nouvelle Experience.
In the 1998-99 Broadway season, Irwin, Shiner created Fool Moon, and evening of clowning which also featured the Red Clay Ramblers. The show was honored with a Special Tony Award for Live Theatrical Achievement.
In various stages of the show's development, the show was called The Seussical and Seussical the Musical. It has now been shortened to, simply, Seussical, although the show's logo will read Seussical the Musical.
The show is set in and around Horton's home, the Jungle of Nool. The Cat in the Hat is a kind of tour guide. Horton the Elephant, Gertrude McFuzz, the folks of Whoville, The Grinch, and others sing about home, love, family, loss and imagination — all "the 'thinks' you can think."
Tickets are $50-$85. The Richard Rodgers Theatre is at 226 W. 46th Street in Manhattan. For tickets, call (212) 307-4100. Visit the web site at www.seussical.com.