Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
(The "Introducing ... " series features an interview
Scott Cain: In keeping with the tradition of the Dr. Seuss stories, Seussical is full of many moral lessons and positive messages. In your role of Gertrude McFuzz, what do you hope to communicate to the audience members, especially the younger ones?
Garrett Long: Well, I hope the general message is obvious, that what is important is what's on the inside. In today's society, there are so many bad role models for young women. So many of the people you see on MTV promote a body image that isn't healthy or obtainable for most people. It won't bring you happiness. Youth is within you. I hope the grown women who get plastic surgery also understand that message when they see the show. I can't wait to perform the role every night with the hope that the message will get through to audience.
Horton (Eric Leviton) and Gertrude (Garrett Long)
in the national tour of Seussical
SC: This production is not an exact duplicate of the original New York production of Seussical. What would you say are the main differences between the two productions?
GL: Well, I didn't see the Broadway version and haven't even listened to the cast recording. I wanted to create my version of the role rather than copy what Janine LaManna had done, though I understand that she was wonderful. My understanding is that Christopher [Ashley, the director], along with Stephen [Flaherty - composer] and Lynn [Ahrens - lyricist] really wanted to focus more on Horton and JoJo and to simplify the story somewhat. They emphasized the theme of "thinking outside of the box," and I think that this version does that well. We tried to visualize the staging of "The Jungle of Nool" like a school playground with the Wickershams being the cool guys, the Sour Kangaroo as the bully, and Horton and Gertrude as the outsiders, the nerds. Actually, I like to play Gertrude as a "band geek." She's lovable and spirited, but also longs to fit in.
SC: You received many accolades, including Drama Desk and Drama League Award nominations, for your performance in the 2001 Off-Broadway production of The Spitfire Grill. What was it like to originate a role in a New York musical?
GL: It was the first role that I got to create, which was wonderful. I felt like a kid at Christmas. Each song was like a great big gift. Each person I got to work with on the show was a blessing to me. The show really was a perfect fit. I love small town people as well as bluegrass music, so putting all of that together in a musical was great. Receiving the nominations was such a shock. Liz Callaway was the "name" performer, so we weren't surprised when she got nominated for her outstanding performance in the show. But I was totally shocked when I did too. I have no desire to be a star. I was just hoping that the show would touch people, and I know that it did. Everyone associated with The Spitfire Grill was so selfless. Fred Alley is wonderful, and David Saint, my director, is a god. I wish he could direct every show I'm in.
SC: The September 11 attacks occurred early in the run of The Spitfire Grill. How did the tragedy affect the performances of the cast, as well as the reaction from the audiences of the show?
GL: It was very difficult. The show has lyrics like "it's hard to count the days, when you're buried alive," "when hope goes, sidewalks crack," and "shoulder to shoulder, digging stone." I think that each of those, and many more, were constant reminders and made the audience freeze to some extent, especially just after the tragedy. The show did move people, though, and many were in tears by the end of the show. It also affected the possibility of the show moving to a bigger Off-Broadway theater or to a small Broadway house. It was difficult when people like Hal Prince, Arthur Laurents, Stephen Sondheim, and Graciela Daniele would tell us how great the show was and that it just had to transfer. The economics of the times just didn't allow for it.
SC: Is there any other performing experience that stands out for you?
GL: Before Seussical, I did a show called Just So at North Shore Music Theatre. I also played a bird, the Kolololo Bird. The show was written by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, the creators of Honk!. It was incredibly creative and fun and an audience favorite. I really feel that it has a place in New York, maybe in a venue devoted to children's theater.
SC: What does the future hold for Garrett Long?
GL: I love what I do, and I am really enjoying performing in Seussical. I'm not sure what the future holds after that. In whatever I do, I want to experience life to the fullest. My life has been full of surprises, and I hope it never stops.