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A CurtainUp Review
Seussical The Musical

You've probably caught some of the gossip that's followed Seussical the Musical from its troubled Boston tryouts to the Richard Rodgers Theater on Broadway. Enough of the out of town and first night reviews have been so dismissive that you may be thinking of it as Seussical the Flopsical. Scheduled as I was to see the show almost a week after this initial round of bullets were fired, I determined to go with a completely open mind.

To cut right to the chase, Seussical has too many good things going for it to be a monumental disaster like Nick and Nora or the completely charmless and tasteless Footloose. While shows like these had little reason for being in the first place, Theodore Geisel's (Dr. Seuss) spare rhymes have the kind of musical rhythm that almost demands animation and singing. The Cat in the Hat, Horton and the tiny Whos of Whoville, plus other Seussian creatures have already, like The Lion King, proved themselves as animated film winners (see list at end of review). A big splashy Seuss musical for all ages seemed an idea whose time has come.

Topping the list of what's right about Seussical: songs like "It's Possible", "Alone in the Universe" and "How Lucky You Are" which are worth listening to over and over again. . . a truly Tony-worthy performance by Kevin Chamberlin as Horton the loyal and lovable elephant, plus Janine LaManna and Michele Pawk as two beguiling Seussian birds, Gertrude McFuzz and Mayzie Ladybird and . . .and two talented teenagers, Anthony Blair Hall and Andrew Keenan-Bolger alternately giving top notch renderings of JoJo from Whoville. . .sets that are fun and filled with bright Seussian colors

But while Seussical it's neither snoozical or flopsical, it's hardly a winsical. Composer Stephen Flaherty and lyricist Lynn Ahrens are a formidable Broadway show team, but they're not Theodore Geisel (a.k.a. Dr. Seuss) and should not have been saddled with the show's book. Their penchant for successfully blending a multitude of musical styles (pop, rock, Broadway ballads, blues, ragtime and Latin) seemed ideal for a patchwork quilt of a book. Too bad that the quilt is too puffed up and busy to let the individual images and ideas stand out. The result is a show that tries to be too many things to too many little and big people for it to be all things to any of them.

The chief problem stems from excessive Seussianism -- two complete Seuss stories (Horton Hears a Who and Horton Hatches an Egg, countless bits and pieces from the sizeable (44) ouevre including the very first Seuss hit, To Think I Heard It On Mulberry Street.

The idea of using the title character of The Cat In the Hat as the tour guide through this merged Seussian landscape works quite well. As the tall-hatted Cat mime-turned-so-so-singer David Shiner isn't at all bad in the part. However, a small is beautiful approach would have better served the gentle whimsy that has made the Seuss stories with their subtly delivered gentle little sermons about courage and loyalty so endearingly and enduringly popular -- maybe a revue format with the Cat/ tummeler introducing the stories but keeping each separate and without characters from other stories impinging on the anthology.

Given the brief life of the 1999 Broadway revival of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown (see link at end), which did play it small on glitz and big on authenticity and charming, it's understandable that the producers of Seussical opted to use the mega-musical The Lion King (see link) as its role model for appealing to all ages (and ignoring the fact that The Lion King is built on a single story). While this page to stage translation has characters who retain their Seussian charm -- notably, Horton and JoJo (as well as his parents, Stuart Zagnit and Alice Playten), and the already mentioned "birds" -- they sing and dance alongside an ensemble that could double for show girls and boys from any busy and noisy Broadway spectacle. It makes for more whoopee than whimsy.

It's hard to sort out who is responsible for the show's current staging, besides those aboard since its development stage: Ahrens and Flaherty, choreographer Kathleen Marshall (whose work is energetic but not up to her usual inventiveness, with some exceptions such as a balletic fish number and the delightful "The Military" led by a terrific Erick Devine) and the excellent orchestrator, Doug Besterman.

Some of the tableaus of intermingled stories show traces of the tableaus during the first half hour of Ragtime (see link) which was directed by Frank Galati who's still credited in the Seussical program even though he was replaced by the uncredited Rob Marshall. The clever sets have more the mark of the credited Eugene Lee than any set doctoring by the uncredited Tony Walton (maybe he added some psychedelic highlights to the already blindingly bright colors). William Ivey Long, who took over from Catherine Zuber and is duly credited, seems out of his element. The most appealingly dressed characters are the yellow clad Whos from Whoville and Horton in his simple gray, pachydermic sweat suit.

With the holidays when parents and grandparents are eager to take the kids to the theater, Seussical the Musical should be a hot ticket. On the other hand, with so much of the intrinsic Seussian charm left behind in the move from page to stage, you'd probably do better to spend your money on a couple of the still popular Seuss books or videos.

You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown
The Lion King
Production Notes
Book by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty,
with Eric Idle Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Music by Stephen Flaherty
Book by Lynn Ahrens, Stephen Flaherty
Directed by Frank Galati
Choreographer: Kathleen Marshall

Cast: Cat in the Hat - David Shiner
Horton the Elephant - Kevin Chamberlin
Gertrude McFuzz - Janine LaManna
Mayzie LaBird - Michele Pawk
JoJo - Anthony Blair Hall alternating with Andrew Keenan-Bolger
Sour Kangaroo - Sharon Wilkins
Mayor of Whoville - Stuart Zagnit
Mrs. Mayor - Alice Playten
Cat's Helpers - Joyce Chittick, Jennifer Cody, Justin Greer, Mary Ann Lamb, Darren Lee, Jerome Vivona
General Genghis Khan Schmitz - Erick Devine
Bird Girls - Natascia Diaz,
Sara Gettelfinger, Catrice Joseph Wickersham
Brothers - David Engel,
Tom Plotkin, Eric Jordan Young
Grinch - William Ryall
Vlad Vladikoff/ Cat's Helper - Darren Lee
Judge Yertle the Turtle - Devin Richards
Marshal of the Court - Ann Harada
Set Design: Eugene Lee
Lighting Design: Natasha Katz
Costume Design: William Ivy Long
Sound Design: Jonathan Deans
Orchestrations: Doug Besterman
Running time: 2 1/2 hours
Richard Rogers, 226 W. 46th St. (307-4100)
Tue - Sat at 8pm; Wed & Sat at 2pm; Sun at 3pm --$25-$80
First Performance 2000-/2000; opened 11/30/2000
Closing Date: 5/20/01
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on December 7 performance
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • Oh, The Thinks You Can Think! /The Cat in the Hat and The Company
  • Our Story Begins /The Cat in the Hat
  • Horton Hears A Who / Bird Girls, Horton the Elephant and Citizens of the Jungle of Nool
  • Biggest Blame Fool / Sour Kangaroo, Horton the Elephant, Wickersham Brothers, Bird Girls, Gertrude McFuzz, Mayzie LaBird, Citizens of the Jungle of Nool and The Cat in the Hat
  • Here On Who/The Mayor of Whoville, Mrs. Mayor, The Grinch, Whos and Horton the Elephant
  • A Day for the Cat in the Hat / The Cat in the Hat, JoJo and Cat's Helpers
  • It's Possible (In McElligot's Pool) /JoJo, The Cat in the Hat and Fish
  • How To Raise A Child /The Mayor of Whoville and Mrs. Mayor
  • The Military /General Genghis Kahn Schmitz, The Mayor of Whoville,
  • Mrs. Mayor, JoJo and Cadets
  • Alone In The Universe /Horton the Elephant and JoJo
  • The One Feather of Miss Gertrude McFuzz / Gertrude McFuzz
  • Amayzing Mayzie / Mayzie LaBird, Gertrude McFuzz and Bird Girls
  • Amayzing Gertrude /Gertrude McFuzz, The Cat in the Hat and Bird Girls
  • Monkey Around /Wickersham Brothers
  • Chasing the Whos /Horton the Elephant, Sour Kangaroo, Bird Girls, Wickersham Brothers, The Cat in the Hat, Vlad Vladikoff and Whos
  • How Lucky You Are /The Cat in the Hat
  • Notice Me, Horton /Gertrude McFuzz and Horton the Elephan
  • t
  • How Lucky You Are (Reprise) /Mayzie LaBird, Horton the Elephant and The Cat in the Hat
  • Act I Finale /Full Company
Act Two
  • How Lucky You Are (Reprise)/The Cat in the Hat
  • Our Story Resumes/ The Cat in the Hat, Horton the Elephant, The Mayor of Whoville, Mrs. Mayor, JoJo, General Genghis Kahn Schmitz, Cadets, Gertrude McFuzz and Bird Girls
  • Egg, Nest, and Tree /Sour Kangaroo, Bird Girls, Wickersham Brothers, The Cat in the Hat, Cat's Helpers and Hunters
  • The Circus /McGurkus The Cat in the Hat, Horton the Elephant and The Circus McGurkus Animals and Performers
  • The Circus on Tour /Horton the Elephant
  • Mayzie in Palm Beach /Mayzie LaBird, The Cat in the Hat and Horton the Elephant
  • Solla Sollew /Horton the Elephant, The Circus McGurkus Animals and Performers, The Mayor of Whoville, Mrs. Mayor and JoJo
  • The Whos' Christmas Pageant /The Grinch and Whos
  • A Message From The Front /General Genghis Kahn Schmitz, The Mayor of Whoville, Mrs. Mayor and Cadets
  • Alone In The Universe (Reprise) /JoJo and Horton the Elephant
  • Havin' a Hunch /The Cat in the Hat, JoJo and Cat's Helpers
  • All For You /Gertrude McFuzz and Bird Girls
  • The People Versus Horton The Elephant / Horton the Elephant, Sour Kangaroo, Wickersham Brothers, Marshal of the Court, Judge Yertle the Turtle, Bird Girls, Gertrude McFuzz, The Mayor of Whoville, Mrs. Mayor, JoJo, Whos and The Cat in the Hat
  • Finale / Oh, the Thinks You Can Think! / Full Company

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