Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Seussical Revisited

The night I saw Cathy Rigby in Seussical on tour was a very cold night in the dark of winter. I had gotten our tickets late but had managed to get front row, a section most ticket-sellers don’t see as ideal seats and which get saved until late, a location I don’t mind at all.

My friend Jo and I had decided to meet at a mall, stop for a bite to eat, then to drive into the city for the show.

But then freezing weather got in the way.

In meeting at the mall, I parked my car to wait for Jo. And my battery died. I couldn’t get it started again to save my life. To sweeten the deal, Jo had gotten stuck on the phone with one of those people who are very kind but just don’t stop talking, so she was running late (and the rush hour traffic from her home is horrendous anyway).

She arrived, though, with just enough time for us to eat at a restaurant across the street from my car, and then she drove us into the city for Seussical. In the darkness of the winter evening, Jo was looking for something in her purse and pulled out a Colombian quarter someone had brought back with them from a trip, an item they had deemed lucky.

For fun, she’d say, “We’re getting closer. Rub the quarter!” Or “Oh traffic’s slowing down, better rub the quarter!” And in the dark, I’d make a show of rubbing it with my thumb.

We got to the theatre just in time, found free parking, and hurried to the theatre with the lucky Colombian quarter in the car.

When we got back to the car, with the dome light on, we could see clearly. Our lucky Colombian quarter was actually a Chuck E. Cheese token.

Well, a Chuck E. Cheese token can’t take credit for getting us to the show on time, and it certainly can’t take credit for the delightful evening we had. I had bought the CD some time before and had already fallen in love with the Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty music, and the show didn’t disappoint. It was, simply put, a tremendously fun night with great music and some extremely talented performers (by name: Eric Leviton as Horton, Garret Long as Gertrude McFuzz, Gaelen Gillilan as Mayzie LaBird, Drake English as JoJo, NaTasha Yvette Williams as the Sour Kangaroo, and Dioni Michelle Collins, Danielle M. Gerner, and Liz Pearce as the Bird Girls). Not only were we never bored, but we had a thrilling time.

And, might I add, this was without the glamour of the Broadway costumes. The tour’s costumes had been inspired by the Broadway costumes, but they were not the same. For example, the Sour Kangaroo wore yellow sweatpants and a sweatshirt with a robe which had black and red zig-zig lines on it, very different from the picture in the OBCR booklet. However, despite this downgrade in costuming, the talent was top-notch, and the show was, like I said, very enjoyable.

Maybe that was about the time I began to wonder about trusting the “word on the street” and from critics in New York. Like Jane Eyre and Bells are Ringing, here was another show everyone bashed but I found well-worth the cost of the ticket. (Later, though, I learned that they weren’t always wrong when I bought a full-price ticket to Tarzan.)

Recently I took in an educational production of Seussical, and mid-way through, I began wondering why I had enjoyed the tour so much because here, the story’s thinness shone through and the plotting didn’t seem right. There was a problem with the plotting that I couldn’t put my finger on, but I could tell that I wasn’t engaged in this production like I had been the with the Broadway tour. It was a beautifully done production—beautiful voices, nicely done sets—but I was trying to figure out if the Broadway tour had somehow managed to smoke and mirror away the flaws in the storytelling.

It was when the show was over and I was noticing a missing song or two that I investigated in the program and learned this was a “Theatre for Young Audiences” edition (which was part of the advertising for the show, though I wasn’t aware that that was in reference to an edition of the show and was not a marketing ploy), which explains the missing songs and the awkward plotting. In comparing the program song listing with the Original Broadway Card recording, not only were several songs missing but songs were re-ordered, which explains why the story seemed limp and didn’t build dramatically in an effective manner.

There were some improper directing choices that didn’t aid the anorexic edition of the book. The costumes were, overall, very creative (and improved upon the tour’s costumes in many ways), but the colors of the set didn’t match the bright, fun atmosphere of the show. The director had chosen a unit set, which was effective at first, but didn’t do anything to help the flagging energy in the plot later on. The choreography also couldn’t match the energy of the music. The result of all this was that when the story began to lag as a result of the effect of awkward cuts and restructuring, there wasn’t much to prop it up. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy myself. It is only that I didn’t enjoy the show nearly as much as I could have had the original book been presented.

I’m still choosing to believe that the Seussical I saw, the original tour libretto (I don’t know if it was changed from Broadway), makes for a highly entertaining show. The show has gone on to great success in schools, community theatres, and children’s theatres the past few years, which I hope is vindication for Ahrens and Flaherty that Seussical can be one fun meussical.

the Broadway Mouth
November 6, 2007

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