By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Enter the Cat in the Hat, played by 50-year-old sprite Cathy Rigby, still tumbling like the Olympic gymnast she was in her teens and still flying on wires like Peter Pan, which she's played on and off for centuries. The Cat serves as the link to all the plot lines, and she also interacts with the audience, mostly to wake them up after some of Ahrens' and Flaherty's more somber ballads. "Get up! Get up!" Rigby commands as she unseats the front row and bounds across their armrests like Robert Begnini at the Academy Awards. Her energy never flags, and although many of us never pictured the Cat in the Hat as a girl (Mike Myers plays the character in an upcoming film), Rigby brings the sort of androgynous buoyancy to the performance that makes gender irrelevant. She sings pretty good, too.
Musically, Seussical is all over the place, a pastiche built on a familiar formula of soulful ballads, inspirational anthems, gospel-inspired showstoppers, some bump-and-grind patter songs, a military number and a soaring pop tune or two with those generic "I can fly!" lyrics so overused in late rounds of American Idol. From "Alone in the Universe," JoJo and Horton's big duet: "One day soon/I know there you'll be/one small voice in the universe/one true friend in the universe/who believes in me." More Seussian is this from one of Horton's solos: "When worse comes to worst/as we all know it will." Now that's more like it.
In some of the 27 songs there's heavy influence from Ragtime, also written by Ahrens and Flaherty. But they've picked up, consciously or un, melodic echoes from Little Shop of Horrors, The Wizard of Oz and even some of the derivative schmaltz of The Lion King. Three tunes in Seussical--"Oh, the Thinks You Can Think," "It's Possible" and "How Lucky You Are"--are repeated in Acts 1 and 2 often enough to become almost hummable, but no, they're forgotten before the key hits the car door. Gypsy it ain't.
On the technical side, the set, designed by James Kronzer, is a giant toy chest that never stops changing size and playing with perspective. Costumes by David Woolard don't overdo it on the cutesy stuff. Horton wears baggy gray pants and a hat with ear flaps, just enough to say pachyderm without getting all Julie Taymor about it.
If only the Music Hall's lousy sound system were gentler to this show. The excessive volume of the overmiked cast nearly ruins Seussical, and it may bruise tender eardrums. The audio levels are heavy-metal loud, often overwhelming the rapid-fire lyrics. Earplugs should be handed out with the programs.
At two and a half hours, Seussical might be abusical for children under 6 who find it hard to sit still for yet another reprise of a reprise. As enjoyable as it is, this is a show that could benefit from a trim of at least 40 minutes and the loss of five or six songs. To quote its author, "Shorth is better than length."