The tour version of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty's musical, Seussical the Musical, has arrived in Pittsburgh, helmed by Cathy Rigby as The Cat in the Hat. Based on the works of Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel), this show struggled to find an audience during its Broadway run from November 30, 2000, to May 20, 2001. Before the tour launched, the creators, along with director Christopher Ashley and choreographer Patti Columbo, made substantial changes. The resulting production is a quite pleasing family musical with humor and heart for all ages.
Many familiar Seuss story characters - and several new ones - accompany The Cat in this whimsical tale, most prominently JoJo (Shadoe Brandt/Drake English), Horton the Elephant (Eric Leviton), Gertrude McFuzz (Garrett Long), Mayzie LaBird (Gaelen Gilliland), Sour Kangaroo (Natasha Yvette Williams), and many Whos from Whoville. The somewhat meandering story, punched up in many places by The Cat with her current-day jokes and asides to the audience, is supported (or maybe led) by a strong score which is well sung by the entire cast. Particular standouts in the score are "How to Raise a Chil," "How Lucky You Are," "Notice Me, Horton," and "Solla Selew." As with the Seuss books, there are lessons to be learned ("a person's a person, no matter how small") through a knowing but childlike view of the world, pointing up the many foibles of society.
Horton the Elephant, a sweet and very caring individual, is well played - and not overplayed - by Leviton. The minimal costuming works well, as Horton's grey cap with pink-lined ear flaps suggest an elephant without the cumbersome trunk one might think was necessary. Leviton's facial expressions, body language and voice all contribute to the success of this character and he sings his goodly share of songs very well. JoJo, played by local actor Shadoe Brandt at the performance I saw, is the thread that ties together Horton's story and the ever-presence of The Cat in the Hat. Brandt is a very talented blond mop-head who shows signs of an excellent singing voice (though the role doesn't permit him to really show this off). He is very natural and likeable in the role.
Garrett Long, as the nervous, self-conscious Gertrude McFuzz, is funny and sweet, but some of the obsessions of her character (the size of her tail and her love for Horton) are played too long and become a bit tiresome. Gertrude is so nervous that Long loses some of her lines due to a too-rapidfire delivery. Mayzie LaBird is a self-indulgent chanteuse of a character, and Gilliland brings the character across very well, displaying a great belting singing voice. All of the supporting characters are very good, especially the ensemble players who bolster nearly every scene with verve and zeal through terrific singing, dancing, and acting.
The petite Cathy Rigby has never ending pep in this show. The Seussical Cat supplies wry humor, standup comedy, audience participation sketches, and high-flying acrobatics to keep the energy high. Rigby plays several comical characters that are part of the story (complete with props and accents) as well as breaking the fourth wall to entertain the audience with topical jokes (including a surprisingly funny play on the tired "Can you hear me yet" cell phone commercial campaign and references to Botox and Rigby's stint as Peter Pan). Though the harness flying of The Cat and JoJo is used to distraction (and the slit in the the back of JoJo's shirt for the apparatus to connect the harness is distractingly obvious), it is fun to see that Rigby still has her gymnastic talents as she provides amazingly acrobatic feats in the air (as well as a few on the stage). The crowd loves her and she is an excellent Cat.
The costuming by David Woolard, not all as minimalist as Horton's, is delightful, with a combination of complete and symbolic outfits. A very inventive "Circus McGurkus" shows off Woolard's talents. James Kronzer's scenic design is also appropriate and not lacking, including cartoonlike flats for trees and Whoville houses. The opening effect of a growing window in a solid wall, where the cast introduces the story, is very well done. Lighting by Howell Binkley works well with the scenic design, especially on the twinkling star-studded backdrop, which evokes the tone of many scenes through the color and design of the lights. And the lighting works well with choreography by Pati Columbo on the inventive "Havin' a Hunch."
The Seussical tour continues throughout many U.S. stops. More information is available at www.seussical.com.