By Kenneth Jones
02 Jul 2002
The gaggle of actors playing birds, monkeys, men and monsters in the national tour of Seussical the Musical has been made public, and joining previously-announced Cathy Rigby this fall will be Garrett Long as Gertude McFuzz, Eric Leviton as Horton and Gaelen Gilliland as Mayzie LaBird.
Rigby (a perennial Peter Pan) will play The Cat in the Hat, as she did in the 2001 Broadway production, tumbling and sprinting in the musical comedy drawing on stories and characters by kid lit hit Dr. Seuss. Lyricist Lynn Ahrens and composer Stephen Flaherty, who also penned the show's book, are tinkering slightly with their script for the tour.
"I can tell you it's an entirely new production," Ahrens told Playbill On-Line in May. "And it'll be slightly refocused. Some of the writing is gonna be what it was on Broadway, with some tightenings and refocusings. No new songs. We have to work with the director and choreographer to see what they need. Basically, the show we wrote is the show that's going out on the road because it's a beautiful show and it just needs a second airing."
Christopher Ashley (The Rocky Horror Show) directs, Patti Colombo (Peter Pan) choreographs.
Garrett Long played Percy in the Playwrights Horizons staging of the new musical, The Spitfire Grill, Off-Broadway, and is heard on the cast album.
The company includes Richard Miron and Drake English alternating as JoJo, the boy; NaTasha Williams as Sour Kangaroo; Don Stitt (Buddy, Late Nite Comic) as the Mayor of Whoville; Amy Griffin as Mrs. Mayor; Stuart Marland as General Genghis Kahn Schmidtz; Liz Pearce, Danielle Garner and Dioni Collins as Bird Girls; Luis Villabon, Venny Carranza and Brian-Thomas Williams as the Wickersham Brothers; Richard Rowen as The Grinch; Brian Shepard as Vlad Vladikoff; Brian Mathis as Judge/Yertle the Turtle; Drew DiStefano, Paul Aguire, Erin Maguire, Jenna Coker, Kaitlin McCoy as Cat Helpers; and two swings to be announced.
Choreographer Patti Colombo re-imagined the dances for the most recent Broadway Peter Pan, starring Cathy Rigby. She memorably reworked the Indian dance number, "Ugg-a Wugg," in the 1998-99 Broadway Peter Pan (also seen on the road) into a percussive Stomp-worthy drum number that had audiences cheering. The slick reworking also solved some of the number's politically incorrect lyrics.
The designers are Helen Hayes Award-winner James Kronzer (set), Rocky Horror vet David Woolard (costumes), The Full Monty's Howell Binkley (lighting) and Brian Ronan (sound).
The staging is co-produced by NETworks and McCoy Rigby Entertainment under the umbrella Who Co, LLC.
NETworks executive producer Ken Gentry told Playbill On-Line that despite the show's short Broadway run, he saw the production in New York and witnessed people around him cheering the show. Gentry saw a future for the work, and knew there was an audience for it — NETworks has a track record with family-friendly material having produced the tour of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella.
"I liked the material a lot. I liked Lynn and Stephen's work a lot," Gentry said. "I had a real familiarity with the stuff because I have four kids. There were moments that took me right back to the bedroom, reading to my children. I felt that people across the country would very much enjoy this...[not just children] but people from my age, I'm in my 50s. The material has a profound effect not just from children. The thing that makes Dr. Seuss so magical is that, as an adult, there's something there for you, too."
Gentry admits he is too old to remember reading "Horton Hears a Who" or "The Cat in the Hat" as a child. "My introduction was as an adult," he explains. "Underlying all of his material are really good adult lessons. Sometimes, as an adult, you need a simplistic way of reminding you what you know. I also found him very entertaining and charming..."
The national tour of Seussical the Musical, the family friendly show drawing on characters created by Dr. Seuss, will launch at Clowes Memorial Hall on the Butler University campus in Indianapolis, IN, Sept. 17-22.
The show was a 2000-2001 Broadway flop that was nevertheless beloved by a good chunk of the audience, and spawned a cast album.
Was the turbulent Broadway production of Seussical painful?
"It's not painful at all, it's just not positive." Ahrens told Playbill On-Line. "It was a negative experience in many ways although there was a lot of great stuff about the experience as well: Writing it was great, doing the workshops with our actors, and the cast was phenomenal. For a list of about 115 different reasons it became a negative experience, and it's not worth dwelling on especially when it's going on in a new, great form."
A list of cities, venues and dates follows. As is always the case with bookings, these engagements are subject to change.
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 in summer 2000 and landed on Broadway in fall, critics and some audiences were left frustrated. Producers Barry and Fran Weissler got nervous following a sharply negative review in Boston in late summer 2000 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, Olympic gymnast 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..."
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 near the close of the tour, in summer 2003.
Seussical won three Drama Desk Award nominations and a Tony Award nomination for actor Kevin Chamberlin, but closed May 20 after 197 performances and 34 previews.
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."
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, 2001 (playing JoJo, 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.
The tour dates include:
- Clowes Memorial Hall, Indianapolis, IN Sept. 17-22
- Hobby Center, Houston, TX Sept. 4-29
- Community Center Theater, Sacramento, CA Oct. 1 13
- Majestic Theater, San Antonio, TX Oct. 22-27
- Civic Theater, San Diego, CA Oct. 29-Nov. 3
- Paramount Theater Seattle, WA Nov. 5-10
- Civic Theater Portland, OR Nov. 12-17
- Morris Mechanic Theater Baltimore, MD Dec. 3-8
- Cadillac Palace Chicago, IL Dec. 10-22
- Orange County PAC Costa Mesa, CA Dec. 24-Jan. 5, 2003
- Palace Theater Columbus, OH Jan. 7-12, 2003
- Merriam Theater Philadelphia, PA Jan. 14-19, 2003
- Marcus PAC Milwaukee, WI Jan. 21-26, 2003
- Aronoff PAC Cincinnati, OH Jan. 29-Feb. 9, 2003
- Orpheum Theater Minneapolis, MN Feb. 11-16, 2003
- Fox Cities PAC Appleton, WI Feb. 18-23, 2003
- Bob Carr Theater Orlando, FL Feb. 25-March 2, 2003
- Kravis Center West Palm Beach, FL March 4-9, 2003
- Broward PAC Ft. Lauderdale, FL March 11-23, 2003
- Tampa Bay PAC Tampa, FL March 25-30, 2003
- Ovens Auditorium Charlotte, NC April 1-6, 2003
- Heinz Hall Pittsburgh, PA April 8-13, 2003
- Times Union Jacksonville, FL April 15-20, 2003
- Oakdale Theater Wallingford, CT April 22-27, 2003
- Miller Auditorium Kalamazoo, MI April 29-May 4, 2003
- Saenger Theater New Orleans, LA May 6-11, 2003
- Fox Theater Atlanta, GA May 13-18, 2003
- Gammage Auditorium Tempe, AZ June 3-8, 2003
- La Mirada Thatre for the Performing Arts LaMirada, CA June 17-29, 2003
Music Hall Dallas, TX July 1-13, 2003