Regional Reviews: Seattle
Seussical The Musical at The Paramount
I wasn't alone in the universe in enjoying the Broadway version of Seussical, was I? I think not, but I would be the first to acknowledge it had its problems. Sadly, few of the Broadway version's most serious issues (mainly too many disparate threads from different Dr. Seuss books crowding the main tale of Horton and the Whos) have been addressed in the rather low-budget touring company.
Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty's book has lost a few unnecessary elements (such as "The Big Butter Battle") but the shows biggest misstep remains: the mischievous Cat in the Hat (played here, and for a time on Broadway, by the beguiling and dynamic Cathy Rigby) seems to intrude and clash with the gentler style of the Horton the Elephant tales, and none of Rigby's considerable efforts to entertain us (and she does) can fix that.
Christopher Ashley's direction is run of the mill, and the cheesy choreography by Patti Columbo and John Charron lets down a gamely determined ensemble. Rigby, who goes full-out in all her choreography, astonishes with her energy and charm. The decision to have The Cat and others fly around a lot is appropriate in such a fantasy, except that it suffers in comparison to Rigby's recent tours as the high-flying Peter Pan.
What worked on Broadway, and still works, are the songs and the classic Seuss characters. Though lacking a certain essential cuddliness, Eric Leviton's Horton grows on you as the evening progresses. He certainly has the pipes to do justice to one of the best of Ahrens and Flaherty's many fine songs, "Alone in the Universe," which he shares with Drake English, a non-cloying, bright voiced youngster who alternates as JoJo. Garrett Long is warm and appealing as Horton's long-suffering wannabe girlfriend Gertrude McFuzz, and also pairs well with Leviton on "Notice Me, Horton." Galen Gilliland vamps saucy as the self-absorbed Mayzie LaBird, Natasha Yvette Williams rocks the house as the Motown-esque Sour Kangaroo, and Don Stitt is adorable as JoJo's Dad, the Mayor of Whoville. Rigby delights with the cheer up ditty "How Lucky You Are," but it might have been nice if Ahrens and Flaherty could have given her a soft sell ballad moment, considering she is the big selling point of this production.
James Kronzer's flimsy looking sets and David Woolard's unimaginative costumes are emblematic of how little care was put in to make this a new and improved version of an imperfect but lovable show, and the usual opening night technical gaffes with miking, set moves and so on didn't help matters.
As the best musical theatre songwriting team in the modern American musical theatre, Ahrens and Flaherty (currently well represented at New York's Lincoln Center with the gorgeous, intimate musical A Man of No Importance) deserved better the second time around, not a plate of re-warmed green eggs and ham.
Seussical The Musical plays at the Paramount, 9th and Pine in downtown Seattle, through November 10, 2002. For further information visit the Paramount website at www.theparamount.com.- David-Edward Hughes