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Seussical: A Rough Guide For The M.D.

June 15, 2012

BEFORE YOU START:

1)      If you have been living under a rock, read the following Dr. Seuss books:

  1. Horton Hears a Who!
  2. How The Grinch Stole Christmas
  3. The Lorax
  4. Green Eggs and Ham
  5. Yertle the Turtle
  6. Horton Hatches the Egg
  7. I Had Trouble Getting into Solla Sollew
  8. And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street
  9. McElligot’s Pool
  10. Hunches in Bunches
  11. If I Ran The Circus
  12. The Butter Battle Book
  13. Oh, The Thinks You Can Think!
  14. The Cat In The Hat
  15. The Sneetches and Other Stories
  16. Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?
  17. Oh, The Places You’ll Go!
  18. One Fish Two Fish, Red Fish Blue Fish

If you have read Horton Hears a Who and are roughly familiar with the Seuss books, skip this step. Whatever you do, please skip the current movie adaptations, which are for the most part dismally un-seussian and not germane to your task.

2)      Listen to the Original Broadway Cast Recording. This is the best presentation of what the original production was like.

3)      Listen to the Theatreworks Cast Recording. This represents a later production of the show which has a lot of material and some characters cut out. As far as I can tell, the orchestrations are basically the same.

In 1998, I managed to get ahold of Stephen Flaherty’s e-mail address and wrote to ask him if he would take me on as a student. (no, I no longer have it) He very graciously sent me a reply saying that he was much too busy writing Seussical to help me. I wondered at the advisability of writing such a show (as though I knew anything about such things), and particularly the title, which seemed off-putting somehow. When I finally got the soundtrack, my confusion was cleared up and I realized that they had done for the Seuss stories something like what Sondheim had done for fairy tales in Into The Woods or what Frank Loesser and the Spewacks had done for Damon Runyon’s stories in Guys and Dolls; they had created a seamless whole out of Seuss’s discrete and marvelous stories without in any way sacrificing the integrity of the material. Unless one reads the books to check, it’s very difficult to tell where Seuss ends and Ahrens begin. The music is utterly whimsical, full of joy and innocence, and sometimes infectiously beautiful. Even though its original run was brief, Seussical is a show that seems to be forever in the ascendant, particularly in Community Theatre and at schools, where it is prized for its very large and flexible cast, its family friendly vibe and its roles for kids. Because of the fantastical and imaginative nature of the story, it can be done with very modest technical resources or with wildly expensive lighting and set effects.  It has become a great, fresh replacement for warhorses like Annie and Oliver.

SEUSSICAL IN THE PANTHEON OF AHRENS AND FLAHERTY SHOWS:

Let’s put this show in perspective both for Ahrens and Flaherty fans and newbies. Ahrens and Flaherty are craftspeople. They are able to tackle widely disparate topics and themes because they approach each task looking to apply their craft to the needs of the story at hand. They are alumni of the BMI workshop, where they learned a craft oriented way of writing musical theatre, and they are, with Alan Menken, perhaps the finest practitioners of the well-made commercial musical.  Contrast that with other brilliant theatre creators like Bob Fosse or Michael John LaChiusa (who also went to BMI), or lesser lights like Frank Wildhorn for example, who approach shows looking for ways to put their overwhelmingly personal stamp on any property they happen to find. Each of the shows of that kind of a creator is going to sound overwhelmingly like their author’s other work, and is going to be perhaps more about the author’s personal vision than about the source material. Ahrens and Flaherty represent a way of writing in which the particular story needs determine the musical voice of the piece.

Ahrens and Flaherty have found such magnificent solutions to the problems of very particular stories, (the island flavor of Once On This Island, the multiple cultures and musics of Ragtime) so people often think of them as reinventing the wheel with every show and never going back over old ground. Because of that conception, and because people love their earlier work so dearly, some people I know are disappointed to hear echoes of Ahrens and Flaherty’s previous shows in Seussical. They would rather not hear the lighter ideas and themes of Seussical treated with the same kinds of music and devices they have come to idolize in Ragtime and Once On This Island. I will try to point out these moments of coincidence with their earlier work as I go, but I will encourage you to look at these moments as places where Ahrens and Flaherty are using the techniques they honed and learned in their other shows to their maximum usefulness to tell the Seuss stories, not places where they’re repeating themselves. In fact, there is a way of looking at this as a Summa of their work up until 2000, containing many of the best elements of their previous musicals.

AS YOU’RE CASTING:

JOJO:

Jojo can be cast successfully as a boy or a girl. Should have a strong singing voice for It’s Possible and Alone in the Universe, and should have a very strong stage presence. Jojo is a large and taxing role for a kid, don’t give it away as a favor; give it to a very strong performer. It’s like what Little Boy would have been in Ragtime had he been given more stage time.

THE CAT IN THE HAT

Should be an actor with a great comic personality, excellent stage presence, and a passable voice. The best cats are ones with spontaneity and the ability to improvise, as the script calls the actor to do several times.

The CITH was originally played by David Shiner, who is an actual Clown. Halfway through the first run, he was replaced by Rosie O’Donnell. This goes to show you how broadly the role can be cast. It also accounts for the two different orchestrations you can get for the show; one in the girls key and another for boys. The boy keys are higher than the girl keys; if you have to pick the orchestration before you cast, I recommend choosing the girl cat version and having your male cat sing down rather than the alternative, which may put your girl cat in a very awkward operatic head voice. I think it’s possible the role was designed to switch out a celebrity in a Broadway run; for a while in the 2000s it was fashionable to write a part in a show that could go to a big name that wasn’t so impossibly difficult that it would turn away non-broadway actors.

I am of the opinion that the Cat in The Hat should NOT go to your finest actor or singer; and that the cat is not the most important character in the show. Horton is really the focal point. If you find yourself deciding whether to put your best performer as Horton or the Cat, all other things being equal, I would advise giving your best actor Horton. I have seen the show with very good Cats and with poor Cats, with very good Hortons and with poor Hortons, and this show without a Horton isn’t a show you want to see. The Cat is, however, an ideal role for a gifted clown.

HORTON

This part should go to a good actor who sings well. For once, the lead in the show doesn’t have to have matinee idol good looks; in fact, the part is often cast with a kind of portly, middle aged  actor. (the original Horton was balding) Gentleness, courage, and warmth are important qualities the actor needs to convey. Horton has the same innocence and wonderment as Benjy in A&F’s My Favorite Year or Harry in Lucky Stiff. What’s that you say? You’ve never heard of Lucky Stiff? Fix that.

MAYOR, MRS. MAYOR

These two roles are an interesting casting problem. They should be cute, but parental. They should be able to affect some kind of character voice, but it shouldn’t be so weird that their sad duet falls flat. Make sure they look good together and are taller than JoJo.

GERTRUDE MCFUZZ

Gertrude is a great character role, needs to have a quirky character voice, and be able to belt/mix to a D above treble C, and go in head voice up to at least Bb above the staff, preferably high D. She should be able to play gawky and awkward, but be really sympathetic to the audience. She’s a little like K.C. in My Favorite Year, or Annabel in Lucky Stiff. Haven’t heard of Lucky Stiff? Check it out.

MAYZIE LABIRD

Mayzie is a flashy take-command-of-the-stage drama queen. She has a showy belt, and it helps if she also has something way up high, because there’s some optional showboating to be done up there. Should definitely be able to dance, too. Mayzie has some characteristics of Evelyn Nesbitt in Ragtime, and is also in a similar category as Dominique DuMonaco in Lucky Stiff. Never heard of it? Worth a listen.
SOUR KANGAROO

The Sour Kangaroo should be a soulful singer with an attitude who can belt a Db (treble clef 4th line) and sing up to a strong E natural. Vocally there is a little bit of Asaka from Once On This Island in this part. This part was originally played by an African American, but could be performed by anyone with a soulful voice and some attitude.
GENERAL GENGHIS KAHN SCHMITZ

If you like, this part can go to a young man who doesn’t sing well, and he can speak the words in rhythm. Schmitz needs to be a strong, very over-the top masculine character, like General Patton on a bad day.

BIRD GIRLS

The Bird Girls sing some great 3 part harmony throughout, and there are a few little solo lines. Good parts for girls you’re grooming for bigger parts later or for girls who sing and move well, but aren’t strong enough stage presences to play the larger female roles. The three part harmony can be a little tricky here and there. The best of all worlds is to get at least one girl who plays piano and can run things with the rest of them on their own. Otherwise, you should record the parts separately and together so they can run them on their own. These parts need to be balanced. Have 3 bird girls who are all good singers with strong ears OR 6 bird girls with at least one good ear on a part OR (least preferable) 9 bird girls with at least one good ear per part. 9 is pushing it. Don’t have 4 or 5 or 7 or 8. That won’t balance out; one part will sound too quiet.

WICKERSHAM BROTHERS

A male Motown trio, really, although they can be cast with girls, singing low, in the male octave (sounds wrong up high) Your top guy needs to have a strong high Gb and a high Bb in falsetto. The other two need to have pretty good ears for harmony; it’s close 3 part throughout. As with Bird Girls, 3, 6, or 9 brothers works, but don’t use groupings that aren’t multiples of 3, and no more than 9, or it’s just silly. Preferably that 3rd wickersham can hit the low Eb (unlikely in a school production) If you’ve got that, look for people who can move and have some attitude (and potentially a sense of mayhem)

THE GRINCH

The Grinch is a funny thing. Everybody thinks of Boris Karloff when they think of the Grinch. This Grinch is not that Grinch, but if you want to go with the stereotypical Grinch, you should look for that face (or one you can make to look like that face) and a low, spooky voice.

CADETS

Can they speak? Can they walk? They can be cadets.

VLAD VLADIKOFF

This part can go adorably to a small kid who only needs to yell his own name, grab a clover, scream, and run away. Perfect.

YERTLE THE TURTLE

This part can be played by somebody who can’t sing well; provided he has enough of a sense of rhythm to come in at the right time, the part can be spoken instead of sung.

A few things to note about the Music Director’s Materials:

Stephen Flaherty is a tremendous pianist, and his excellent pianism shines through every measure of vocal score of his music. The piano is the strong voice of his accompaniment, and the voicings of his chords are without exception beautifully spaced, crystal clear, and fall under the hand very naturally. If you are a pianist MD, take a little time to work out the score ahead of time. There are some tricky spots I’ll outline below. But Flaherty is more a Chopin than a Liszt; you will find that whatever’s bothering you is very playable once you get your head around it. Nothing is written awkwardly for its own sake; it’s all clearly written TO BE PLAYED. It’s really a joy. Having said that, you’re going to get a workout. There is nearly no down time in this show.

The Piano Conductor score is very well edited, and there is a manila envelope that comes with your materials which explains errors they’ve found and contains pages to replace the ones with the mistakes. Good for you MTI! You’re the best.

TROUBLE SPOTS AND ADVICE:

This show is a lot of fun, but there is a LOT of music to teach the cast. You will need to budget a lot of time to get through it all, much more than your normal old-fashioned book show. Another complicating factor is that the solo work is mostly interspersed with other things, so you can’t run very much of it with a single person at a time; in order to do any 10 minute swath of the show, you’ll need a lot of people!

No. 1 Oh, The Thinks You Can Think!

Here we find Ahrens and Flaherty writing their well-honed opening number in the Hal Prince Style, where characters come out and literally announce their names and occupations, just as they did in Ragtime and Once On This Island. Be sure your actors are beginning to perform in character from the very beginning of your rehearsals. Pianist M.D.s take some time in measure 20 and 21 in part one to learn to play that figure correctly. Much of the choral writing is easily simplified, because the outside voices mostly sing in unison. If your group isn’t so great at the harmony, that soprano and bass part an octave apart gives a good impression of the melody. You can also add only the altos, and change that 4 part harmony into a 3 part without missing too much. For some reason, part 2, measures 15-18 seems to give trouble. Cat starts, principals in, then everybody else. That chromatic melody can be troublesome, though. In Part 3, measure 20, we find the first example of something that happens throughout the show: A character speaking the Seuss rhymes in rhythm. Do get the actors used to actually speaking these in rhythm; if they get the sense that they can just say them at their own leisure, you’ll have problems coordinating each of these sections. Have fun with the last 8 measures: you can assign these groups however you like, although the Low Men part really should be sung by lower voices. I think I had my littlest kids singing the top line, the sopranos singing the second line, the altos and tenors singing the third line down (in their respective registers, with both parts starting on the Db above middle C, and the basses on the lowest vocal part). In fact, it’s not a bad idea to teach just that ending at the very beginning of your rehearsals, because it’s repetitive and infectious. The Boy’s Seuss! is miswritten in the vocal books. Make sure it’s just Jojo saying it at measure 37. Another important thing to note: The original Broadway recording is different from this version. Don’t let your choreographer use the OBC recording to block this number. NOTE: The Male cat version starts in C Major. The lowest note is bass C, the highest note is E above middle C. The Female cat version starts in G. The lowest note is G below middle C. The highest note is B above middle C.

2. Our Story Begins…

The Djembe solo could be played on a couple of toms with the drummer’s hands.

3. Horton Hears a Who!

This number is very like Once On This Island with its Caribbean flavor and fluid storytelling style. It’s also one of the great examples of the long-form storytelling technique of Ahrens and Flaherty that appear in almost every show. From the very first time you run it, make sure your Jungle Citizens don’t add an extra ‘whowaddadadda’ in measure 14. You’ll know what I mean once you’ve run the number a few times. The Bird Girls have great 3 part harmony. Place the singers with the strongest ears on the bottom two parts. The top part doesn’t go that high.

4. Biggest Blame Fool

The Original Broadway Cast Recording has a big introduction at the beginning which is not in the score anymore. Don’t let your actors get used to waiting for that big brass hit on the CD. Let the Sour Kangaroo start the number in time right on the heels of Horton Hears a Who! It will take some practice, but you can make it work. The number is a great pastiche of classic Motown grooves, including some quotes. (“R-E-S-P-E-C-K” for example) If you’re working with kids, play examples of the original tunes so they have some frame of reference. Your pit should work for a tight, in-the-pocket groove, with exactly aligned 8th notes. Put aside some time to get those Wickersham parts really tight and funky. In part 2, in the section starting at 62, I found the 5 part split too much for my group the last time I did this show. I cut out that low C in the men, and put the basses on the B flat. Same thing at 66. I did the same thing at the beginning of 4B. Low As in the basses aren’t audible against a forte orchestra unless they really have a bright tone, and you’re well miked anyway. I’d do the same every time it splits into 5 parts. At 33 in part 3, the tempo is exactly the same as before, but the feel changes. Don’t let it slow down there. If your kangaroo is a good riffer, let her do her thing at m. 20 of part 4. If the riffing is less than inspired, have her sing just what’s on the page. The playoff is a lot of fun.

5. Here On Who

I really admire this number. It doesn’t light the world on fire, it’s not the number you leave humming, but it does its job with incredible ingenuity. The whos are a quirky, tiny race living on a speck, and Flaherty’s music is just delightfully zany and small scale. The rhythm of the melody dances up and down a goofy minor 7th, in a ¾ pattern against the 4/4 beat pattern. And then it modulates over and over, usually down, which makes the whole thing seem sort of lower and lower; only the relentlessly innocent and peppy vibe of the accompaniment keeps it from losing energy; instead it just reads loony, offbeat, and tiny. This kind of unobtrusive whimsy and invention is the work of a true master.

The harmony is surprisingly easy to learn. The only tricky spot is in measure 35, 39, and the subsequent versions of that part of the melody. The top part tends to want to make that second d a c#, like it will be later. Point it out and get it right from the beginning. If your who chorus is having trouble with the harmony from 41-48, just do the top line as a 2 part chorus. You should keep 49 as it is written, though. Work for short ‘who’s. It should sound like a goofy calliope or circus organ. I wound up playing the last note of measure 66 and 72 wrong for two productions. It’s an off-beat, not beat 4. For some reason, the sopranos want to go up to an f# for the last note of 77, but it’s a D.

If you’re looking for a cut in the marching band section (and you just might; it goes on a little long) you can cut 85-88 and nobody will miss it. Again, you can turn 89-94 into a 2 part arrangement by cutting out the bottom staff and assigning the tenors and sopranos the top line of the top system and the altos and basses the bottom line. If you went with a higher-voiced Grinch, many of his lines can be thrown up the octave. If you’ve cut the Grinch, you have to be careful to cut around the other phrases so you don’t leave half a rhyme hanging anywhere. In part 3, you can put everyone on the top staff at 2, although the harmony isn’t really all that hard.

I have a sense that originally the Lorax part was much longer. It can be cut, (carefully) but most casts wind up really loving this tiny section. The melody is very sad and lovely. And now that the story has been made into a film, it does give the audience a little aha moment.

I leave the rest of that number to you. I will say that you should try to either a) get the whole cast to be blocked so they can see your cutoff at 28 or b) give them a specific number of beats instead of the fermata so that they can cut off together.

5E. Jojo the Who

You can cut the chorus out of the first 4 measures. Unless they’re really great, I’d do that. You don’t miss it at all, and you’ll spend a half an hour of total rehearsal time on it, which is too much for a show with this much music, and especially for something that won’t be missed at all. If you need a vamp for a scene change, vamp measures 3 and 4.

6. Oh, The Thinks You Can Think! (Reprise)

Very straightforward. As in the opening number, the Male Cat Version is in C, the Female Cat Version is in G, with just the same ranges.

7. It’s Possible

This is just a great, simple number for a kid. The dance break with the fish kind of reminds me of a similar moment with fish in Honk! If you’re looking for ways to simplify the chorus, you can combine the falsetto group and the rest of the chorus at 51 in part 2. (the Beach Boys section) You just do Ah, then the Oo wee Oooh, then toggle back down to the it’s possible, it’s possible, and so forth. Whatever you do, unless you have a great crackerjack chorus, take out the high a for the tenors, and only put one or two sopranos on the high A in the top staff. There are three or four ways to simplify the chorus parts in part 3, depending on what kind of a chorus you have. Any combination of those parts works, basically. The echo effect at 9 could be almost any combination too, and works very well as written. Again, make sure that you either position the chorus so they can see your cutoff at the end of the number, or give them a specific number of beats instead of the fermata so that they can cut off at the same time. As far as I can tell, there’s no difference between the Male and Female Versions of this tune.

8. How To Raise A Child

This beautiful, very short duet is an example, in miniature of the kind of beautiful writing for parents you hear in Once On This Island (Ti Moune) or Ragtime (Our Children) They’ll get a more beautiful example later in 24B. Because they’re whos, there are time signature changes, basically a beat missing out of every other measure. The harmony for Mr. Mayor is not hard, but does need to be taught accurately from the very beginning, and Mrs. Mayor’s notes at the end go up in a very specific way. Measure 27 is crummy. It’s on a page turn, and has a time signature and groove change immediately after. I put a fermata in the second beat and cued the band starting in 28.

9. The Military

This is a Flaherty march, a Sousa pastiche, as he did in Ragtime for Admiral Peary’s March. I found the dance break in 9D rather tricky to play on the piano. Measure 8, I played the left hand part with both hands and picked up the other hand at the end of measure 10. Your cadets can sing the top part of the cadet part at 15 down the octave to simplify it. At the end of 9E, the pit parts say that you play measure 14 2 times, but the PV says 4.

10. Alone in the Universe

The tritone march oompahs in the left hand fade out at the end of the previous number, but the right hand keeps going, becoming the beginning of Alone in the Universe. Decide whether it’s a vamp, or whether it is actually 2 times as the music says. It depends on what happens in this transition on the stage in your production. Whatever you decide, be sure to tell your pit what is happening and when Horton’s entrance occurs, so that they can tell where they are. The chorus itself is a typical soaring Flaherty melody, and he’s using his favorite TI-DO expressive melodic shape to marvelous effect. What do I mean? Well, think about the ‘one small girl’ motif in Once On This Island. That melody is Do Ti Sol, the expressive interval being that descending half step. In My Favorite Year, the big beautiful ballad is Larger than Life, where the tune begins ‘blue lights, pink lights’ Do Ti Sol Do, with the aching Do Ti being the falling half step, and the whole song ends with Sol Ti Do. There’s also an important Do Ti Sol in “Twenty Million People” on the syllables “Mil-lion Peo-“  I find the search for the beautiful Do-Ti in the Flaherty score to be a fine chase. Here, the Do and Ti are reversed for a Ti Do Sol, which is equally expressive, but much more triumphant and hopeful, rather than aching and melancholy, as I sometimes hear the other melodies. Dramatically, it beautifully draws together the worlds of the adult dreamer and the young imagination. In their dialogue section, there is no safety repeat, and that can be nerve wracking, but if the music is played at the same pace as the song, and if the little dialogue is spoken at a moderate speed, Horton’s return to the melody should arrive on time. If you find it doesn’t, play with it until it does.

11. The One Feather Tale Of Miss Gertrude McFuzz

The Opening should be sung simply, but in the Gertrude Character Voice. It is after all, her first substantial appearance on stage. I’ve added this part recently after playing the show again: Gertrude’s parts frequently stop and start. The Piano Vocal score notates some of these and doesn’t notate others, and it notates them differently for the pit than it does for the Piano Conductor. If you come in late in the game to conduct the show, you may be surprised at what isn’t written at all. It has become common practice to slow down slighty at 28, and to put a fermata in measure 29.  In measure 40 you see a breath mark above the vocal part; this is more than a breath mark, it’s a pause, and we find this throughout the score. Breath marks in the piano vocal for Gertrude almost always mean a slight pause. Again measure 45 and 46 have a rit. and a fermata respectively in common practice for this role. (not notated in  the part) 47 is basically in tempo until the word meant, where you linger on the second chord there, then back into tempo for 49, and 50, performing it similarly, then 51 is back into tempo as written. We will come back to this disconnect between performance practice and notation later in the score. The tempo at 54 is going to be your Amayzing Mayzie tempo, so don’t take it too fast.

12. Amayzing Mayzie

This is another in a long line of fun Ahrens and Flaherty Latin numbers. The opening of the melody has same rhythm that’s all over Once On This Island, (like the top of Why We Tell The Story) or Speaking French in Lucky Stiff. Keep that tempo in check at the beginning; it’s easy to let it run away. Bird Girls need a really bright hot-box tone for their backup; or think the girls in America in West Side Story. In measure 50, Mayzie has a big slide. She can slide up to the E if she likes, but I found it best not to begin the slide until where it’s marked, and only for a single measure. If you have an even number of Bird Girls, you can split the 2 part evenly. If not, I think the greater number should be on the higher of the two notes. (the melody) Their melody at 71 is clearly Chopsticks, which is hysterical. Every time I’ve played this show, I’ve struggled with measures 85-92. I don’t know why. The A flat and the F switching in the hands took me a while. The ‘frills’ note can be tricky for the lower Bird Girl voice. Spend a little extra time on that.

12A. Amayzing Gertrude (Part 1)

Same tempo as before. Words in tempo until 15. If your Cat is good at voices, you can stretch out 17 with some Sid Caesar fake German gobbledy-gook. The notes for Gertrude in 27-30 should really have an x for each note-head, it’s spoken. Time the gulps at 34-49 with the music.

12B. Amayzing Gertrude (Part 2)

Begin slowly so you have somewhere to go, speed up as written until you’re in tempo at 9. Budget some time for the three part bird-girl stuff; it’s a little tricky, especially with the slides. The Mama Will Provide style Ending can go up to the B flat if your Gertrude doesn’t have a fabulous high D.

13. Monkey Around

This fantastic Motown number can be done as written or much simpler, but you can only be as daring as you are successful. As written, it’s a little tricky. Wick 1 is the highest one, 2 and 3 respectively lower; I think Wick 2 is the hardest to hear. A simpler version would be to have everyone sing the melody at all times. Yes, you miss a lot, but that’s better than hearing flubbed harmonies through the whole number. Observe dynamics and accents, and be soulful, but respect what’s on the page. It’s really good stuff. You can cut the first four measures if you like, retaining the hit at the downbeat of measure 1.

14. Chasing the Whos (Part 1)

Take a few minutes to learn the groove up top accurately, and put it in the tempo you want the later parts of the number to be in.

14A. Chasing the Whos (Parts 2,3&4)

The 2 ½ times indication at the beginning of the number is not in the orchestra parts, FYI. You might start teaching the bird girls their parts at the pickup to 17, run it a thousand times, then work your way out into the rest of the number. “Sneetches on beaches” is a bear, especially for the lowest Bird Girl. If your Boys don’t have the high notes, cut out the tenor part at the beginning of Part 4.

15. How Lucky You Are

This number has always reminded me of “Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life”. Since Eric Idle (who wrote that song) is credited with the idea for Seussical and evidently got a draft of the book out, I suspect he had something to do with it, at least in concept. Watch the break at 29 and 30. The whole thing should be in time. If you want it not to be, make the end of 29 a fermata and cue 31 when the sneeze business is over. In each of the 4 productions of Seussical I’ve been involved in, the bass player plays measure 45 wrong, moving to a D halfway through the measure. It’s written correctly, it’s just counter-intuitive. The Male Version is in F Major, the lowest note is a D below middle C, the highest note is F above middle C. The Female Version is in C, the low note is an A below middle C, and the highest note is Treble C.

16. Notice Me, Horton

The opening of this number is one of those spots where Gertrude’s part stops and starts, but it isn’t notated. In measure 12, the breath mark is the vocal score’s way of marking what is really a caesura (railroad tracks) Measure 16 is really slower from the beginning, not halfway through. The song proper is pretty straightforward, a pop duet along the lines of Suddenly Seymour from Little Shop. INTERESTING SIDEBAR: You’ll notice in your piano score that following measure 28 is an arrow pointing at measure 37. Measures 29-36 were cut from the production. They are, however, included in Alfred’s Singers Library of Musical Theatre Mezzo/Alto volume 2 in on page 189, where they reprise earlier music with the new lyric:

No one’s ever looked twice at Miss Gertrude McFuzz,

But this tail makes me worth almost twice what I was,

And I did it for you so you’d notice me more

(it isn’t in the score, but I’ll Horton says “one hundred and four”)

Later, in the place of the big duet finish, this version has the following:

Well, my chirp may be shrill and I may not be smart,

bit I know you’ve a kind and a powerful heart

And I’ll do what a bird

who is not being heard

has to do

to make you

Notice me Horton,

Notice me Horton,

The way I noticed you

No, I don’t think you should reinstate this cut. The current version is much more to the point, the other material is not missed, and in fact, it belongs where it is, in a solo version when another singer isn’t needed. (perhaps Ahrens and Flaherty provided it with that in mind for the anthology)

I think the trickiest moment is at m. 55 (I was just a no one only yesterday…) This is supposed to be the big release of the song, and it’s really supposed to be done in full voice, both singers belting, or at the very least mixing. But both singers are potentially in a tricky part of the voice. Horton’s part is just right for a Tenor or for a Cambiata, but could be crack-inducing for an untrained Baritone. Gertrude’s part is good for most belters, but the Db and Eb extension in measures 63-66 could wind up being pushed, tight, and flat in the wrong instrument. There are some solutions to that, depending on who’s having difficulty and who isn’t.

1)      You could have both singers sing Gertrude’s notes from 55-62 if Horton is the one having trouble.

2)      You could drop the Dbs and Ebs down the Octave for Gertrude in 63-66 if Gertrude is having trouble hitting those notes.

3)      You could have them both adopt a lighter registration and dial the dynamic of the pit accompaniment way way back. (least satisfying option)

There is a typo in measure 65 in the piano Right Hand; the G should be a G flat (see Gertrude’s melodic line)

The modulation at 73 is very difficult to hear for some singers. On one of the recordings, Gertrude speaks 73 and comes in with the melody on “I was hooked…” after she’s found the key. In one production I was involved with, I had Gertrude also go to the higher D flat in 83, but I now think that was a mistake, because it messes up the metaphor of them finally joining together on a unison note. If you find you need more time in the transition to 16A, you can repeat 85-92.

16A How Lucky You Are (Reprise)

This section, (and a little of the situation) will certainly remind you of Coalhouse’s piano playing in Ragtime. The right hand ought to be played just a little lazy, while the left hand lays down the stride in a strict but moderate tempo. For her part, Mayzie should affect a kind of Marilyn Monroe voice, perhaps getting a little more belty around 26.

16B. Mayzie’s Exit Music

Pretty straightforward, except that cuing the entrance can be tricky from the piano. I tried giving a really strong one with my left, then did the gliss with my right hand while giving a strong upbeat with my head. Another option would be to have your drummer just give a nice full measure latin fill as your upbeat and then cue the rest of the band in at measure 3. The fact that there is no measure 1 indicates to me that there was probably more here at some point that got cut to make the exit a little more concise.

17. Finale (Part 1: Horton Sits On The Egg)

The Bird Girl part at 16-19 can be tough for some reason. The section beginning at 37 is the same tempo, but the groove changes.

17A. Finale (Part 2: Horton’s Dilemma/The Hunters)

The section beginning at measure 23 has some tricky harmony. The part at 55 isn’t that clearly marked, but it should be much slower, or you’ll never get the sixteenth notes in measure 58.

17B. Finale: (Part 3: How Lucky You Are:Reprise)

If you’re looking to shorten this number, there’s a way to cut 21-36, and change the bassline in 20 to G#, A, A# instead of G, Ab, A. There’s a discrepancy in the score, the vocal books, and the pit parts in measures 45-48. The error list doesn’t really help. You want to cut measures 45 and 46 from the PC, not 44 and 45. Then you do 47-48 three times. (as written) Have a look at the parts. I believe the measure numbers are off, but the books play correctly. The problem is if you’re rehearsing and you call numbers that aren’t there. Just give the parts and score a once-over to get the lay of the land. You can also cut measure 76 entirely, and then put the orchestra hit on the 4th beat of a 12/8 measure. (how lu-cky you are BLAT!) I think that extra nothing in there was originally timed somehow with the cat’s magical exit. Most times I think productions just wind up using a blackout, which isn’t so magical, but is infinitely cheaper and less prone to error. The Male and Female versions are in the same key, but the Female version has alternate cat notes that don’t go so high. Look at the drum book and the percussion book and make sure all the little percussion toys are included. Something tells me they are in the vocal score, but not in any of the parts.

18. Seussical Entr’acte

If I’m not very much mistaken, this Entr’acte is basically the Overture in the original Broadway cast recording. If your cat isn’t a gifted improviser, or you don’t have the time to choreograph something interesting here, I’d skip this, and jump directly into act 2. If you decide to do it, there are some wickedly fun piano parts around measure 50 or so, which sound quite a bit like Ragtime. That music is from a number “The Cat In The Hat” which was cut from the show, and that number is very much like Ragtime. As a joke, my friends and I used to play that number and then improvise a Ragtime opener; “Father built a house on the corner of cat and hat…” Okay, so it isn’t really that funny. Yes, my friends and I are lame. There is a typo in the piano vocal measure 68. All the pit parts have that last note as an eighth on the and of 4.

18A. Our Story Resumes (Parts 1-2)

Again, it’s very important that your actors speak the lines in rhythm. If you block these parts without the music, you’ll be in for a rude awakening when the blocking doesn’t match the timing of the underscore. This number is part of a mini-trend of ‘recap’ numbers in musicals in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s. There’s one in ‘The Producers’ and I wrote one myself for an opera in 2002.

19. Egg, Nest, and Tree

You may find yourself needing to repeat the first 4 measures. It’s really difficult to remember lyrics in a show when the same music is used many times with different words. The blocking will really help your Citizens of the Jungle remember what they’re singing. At measure 53, the 2nd tenor part sort of doubles the second alto. Obviously, there’s an easier way around it. Either split your trebles into 3 parts as written and have all your tenors and basses on the bottom note of the lower staff, or cut out the middle line in the bottom staff, but leave the rest as is, or come up with some other solution. I think teaching 6 parts there isn’t worth the time you’ll spend doing it. At measure 58, you come upon a passage which bothers die-hard Ragtime fans, because it inhabits the same gut-wrenching musical universe as ‘Til We Reach That Day’, which, like every other song in Ragtime, is sacrosanct and inviolable. It must be said, though, that it’s also just right for this moment, and a lot of fun. Again, you can leave out the top notes of the bottom staff, since you have the women on that part too. If you have some very soulful tenors and enough weight on the other lower parts, you could also do it as written, naturally.

SIDEBAR:

Many of the moments that can be cut are in the beginning of Act II. My librettist Matt Boresi has identified a problem in many second acts that he calls “Retrograde Plot Motion” When an audience comes back to a show after the intermission and is introduced to new characters or wildly new plot devices, they are often chagrined and disheartened to find that they are actually getting further from the ‘end’ of the play. Honk comes to mind as another example. Shows that are episodic in nature, like this one, are particularly prone to this. If you’re looking to shorten your production, there are moments in here that can be effectively elided. I’ll lay out here one that my director showed me, but there are many other possibilities (Including doing it as written, of course)

Perform the show as written until Vocal Score page 263. Cut 68-71.

Cut all the way forward to 21. Mayzie in Palm Beach. Perform as written.

Segue to 21A Mayzie At The Circus, and play through measure 14.

Cut backward to 20A The Circus McGurkus (Part 2) Play as much as you need to for the amount of ‘acts’ you were able to get together. We played through m. 14, then cut to m. 39. Play 41-44, then Cut forward to 21AMayzie at the Circus and play 15-end.  Then continue with the show as written.

Now back to your regularly scheduled rough guide:

20-20B. The Circus McGurkus (Parts 1,2&3)

This number, a little like “Crime Of The Century” from Ragtime is either fantastic and whimsical, or a dreadful bore depending on the talent of your cat, the abilities of your chorus members, and the imagination and resources of your designers. There are many ways to make it interesting, and also many ways to cut the number back to save everyone’s time and patience. Needless to say, you don’t have to follow the stage directions on the page exactly; but the 8 measure phrases are good units within which to stage ‘acts’ of the circus or to cut between, if you’re looking for cuts. Part 3 contains the only remaining vestige of the Cat in the Hat song, which is so much like the opening of Ragtime. It also has some easily simplified choral parts. If your cast doesn’t have the high A, you can cut the top lines off both staves in 20B measure 6-9

20C. The Circus On Tour/How Lucky You Are (Reprise)

Again, this number is cute if staged cleverly, but not important to the plot, and can be cut if you’re looking to make some cuts.

21. Mayzie in Palm Beach

There are a number of ways to play both the characters in this scene. Obviously, Mayzie is in a vampy mode, but that mode could be either Jessica Rabbit or Marilyn Monroe or Bette Midler. The cat is clearly supposed to be some kind of boy toy, but again, that could go a number of ways. The piano accompaniment should be lazy and even a bit sloppy. This vibe is a little reminiscent of Coalhouse Walker’s playing in places. As far as I can tell, the Male and Female Versions are identical.

21A&B. Mayzie At The Circus, Amayzing Horton (Part 2)

Mayzie At The Circus is self explanatory. Using a calliope sound will make it sound more ‘circusy’ and less ‘opening-of-ragtimey’. Mayzie’s tone at 42 in 21B is very Evelyn Nesbitty, I think, but then way over the top at 56, where within reason, even tasteful vocal technique can go out the window and the tone can get ugly.

21C. Alone In The Universe (Reprise)

The music at the beginning of this number always strikes me as painfully sad, like the music in the Andrea Sequence near the end of Once on This Island, when TiMoune discovers that she can never marry Daniel. Flaherty is so ridiculously good at precisely describing the mood of the moment, ultimately leading us to a shining jewel in Seussical:

22. Solla Sollew

This is perhaps the only piece in Seussical which has gotten any kind of life of its own outside the piece, where a choral arrangement has proven extremely popular. It’s beautiful in its absolute simplicity, and that needs to be kept in mind as the piece is prepared. This isn’t about showmanship or display; in fact, the characters sitting motionless on the stage and just singing the song is perhaps the best way of putting it across. The song sounds lovely with just the melody, should you find the very simple harmony too difficult for your group.

23. Green Eggs and Ham II

You can use measures 7-8 as a vamp to get the cadets on if you need to.

23A. The Butter Battle

I found the section from 7-10 didn’t time out when I did it slowly. There simply aren’t enough lines to cover the music. Do it in time, Moderato, with a fermata of moderate length. The number is supposed to take place in front of the curtain, to set up the Christmas Pageant, I think. You could cut out 7-9 and not really miss it.

23B. Saving Private JoJo

The score has a trumpet marked in measure 6, but that’s actually a woodwind cue. You could cut this whole number and not miss it. (Just doing the monologue without underscore)

24. Into The Who’s Christmas Pageant and 24A. The Grinch Carved The Roast Beast!

If the cast can’t see you for a cue for the opening, this Vamp is easy to get lost in. Either give a strong cue out of the vamp, or pre-determine the amount of measures before they start singing. The tune is actually really easy to learn. The underscore section is quite difficult to coordinate. Keep the dialogue moving, and make sure your Grinch knows what the music sounds like just before his entrance. This section is an accident waiting to happen, even with the safety at the beginning of 24A. If you find, as I did, that the section just doesn’t work, tell your pit to drop out at 23 and let the piano accompany it through the beginning of 24A. Bring them back in at measure 3 of 24A. If your Grinch doesn’t have the low G, he can sing that up the octave.

24B. A Message From The Front/Solla Sollew (Reprise)

The Stravinsky L’Histoire Du Soldat fanfares at the beginning are funny and right. Make sure they’re also clean. The 1st Cadet’s line should be spoken in time without pause after that fanfare, so make sure they are expecting it and know when to go. Measures 2 and 3 can be vamped if necessary for the entrance of the rest of the cadets. Once again Flaherty manages a really heartbreaking passage at 40, in a bittersweet parental loss duet that reminds me again of the song TiMoune from Once On This Island.

24C. How Sad!

This time, though, Ahrens and Flaherty quickly undercut the sad music with a nod to silent movie melodrama. Work this out with the cat in rehearsal with the music, especially at the end, where the music punctuates his lines.

24D. A Re-enactment

There is an error in the parts in measure 6. Have a look at the individual instrumental parts and clear up what you intend to do. This music can also be cut, with the monologue in the clear.

25. Jojo Alone In The Universe

The opening of this section is odd. It’s not only tonally strange, but it’s kind of impossible to play fully from the piano vocal. I would repeat 3 and 4 so that the singer can really hear that Ab in the right hand. (it’s the starting pitch) Then JoJo basically needs to ignore the accompaniment for a while until it starts making sense again at measure 8.

26. Havin’ A Hunch and 26A (Part 2 Nightmare Ballet)

This is a number that is also frequently cut in productions of Seussical. One way to do that is to skip from the end of 25 to measure 34 in 26A. The cast usually winds up really liking this, though. Every time I do Seussical, people ask me “Are you cutting the Hunches?” and they’re hoping I say no. Whether the audience enjoys it is another matter, but it’s tuneful and easy to learn and stage. The Male Cat Version is in D. The Low note for the Cat is bass C#, the high note the D above Middle C. The Female Cat Version is in Bb. The low note is A below Middle C. The high note is Bb above Middle C. The Male and Female Versions of 26A appear to be identical. The trumpet parts are totally wrong at 40 and 41. The first trumpet should have written C and B natural in 40 and E and D# in 41. The second trumpet should have written A and G in 40 and C natural and B in measure 41.

26B. Part 3: “Oh The Thinks” and 26C Part 4 (Havin’ a Hunch)

I took a cut in this one too, moving from 27 of Part 3 to 23 of Part 4.The Male version is in F, the low note is D above Bass C, the high note is D above Middle C. The Female version is in D. The low note is B below Middle C, the high note is B above Middle C. In the piano vocal score, measure 36 looks funny. The voices come in on the hit on beat 3, not after.

27. Gertrude/Espionage

Again, don‘t block this without the music.

27A. All For You (Verse)

Another spot where Gertrude starts and stops. Traditionally, people slow down in 8 and 9. The breath mark in 17 is really a caesura (railroad tracks) It’s actually written as a caesura in the parts. Practicing the text without the melody can be helpful in getting the words up to speed, although I find most kids are able to do this section without too much trouble. If you find your singer needs a breath in measure 5, make a note to tell your orchestra, or they’ll come in early on measure 6. Mark the G in measure 26 with a courtesy natural, and if you’re a moron like me, mark the one in 30 too.

27B. All For You

In order for the beginning to work, you have to follow that marking: Quick, Hyper-Romantic (“2” Feel) and observe every breath mark as almost being caesuras or grand pauses. Drive ahead into the phrase, then come to a screeching halt. Then do it again. Either work for a resonant head-voice placement or a light, forward placed belt for the extended B/C/D passages, whichever sounds healthier for your Gertrude. The Bird Girl parts are not all that hard, but it’s very difficult to remember where to cut off. You have to drill those cutoffs extensively to get them to be automatic, particularly a measures 49-56. I think the ‘all for you’s that the bird girls sing in measures 33 through 36 are supposed to be like the way Buddy Holly sings ‘Peggy Sue-oo-hoo.”, with a slight glottal stroke on the oo in the middle. I can’t think of any other way to articulate it staccato. At the Bolero section at 41, it will be tempting for your bird girls to really blast it, since it lies low in the range and is really fun to sing, but don’t let them drown poor Gertrude out. The phrase for the bird girls at 43 and 44 is an octave and a fifth for the top voices; make sure the placement for the first note (the low Bb) is in a light head voice registration, or the middle notes will be flat and pressed, and you may hear a drastic tone quality change on the F. As long as somebody’s on the high E in 59, you could really put everybody else on whatever note in the C chord you like, wherever it’s comfortable.

27C. The Whos Return

Don’t block this without music.

28. The People Versus Horton The Elephant

This is the big, hairy finale; once I got to it every night, my blood pressure went up a little, because there are just so many elements to coordinate throughout, so much relies on every person hitting their mark and their line, and there’s very little room for mistakes. It isn’t that it’s weird, it’s just that everything needs to happen just so. You should budget a lot of time to running this number before and after it’s blocked. Everyone needs to know it in their bones. The list of characters at the top of page 367 under the title should include Yertle. After you get to measure 13, it stays in basically the same tempo until 28B measure 25. There are some listed time signature changes, but I found that very minimal tempo changes work out fine, and wind up being less complicated than changing meter and tempo. If the Bird Girls sing “thank” in Part 2, measure 36, it’s funkier (‘thank’ is the funky tense of ‘think’) If you’re conducting, don’t conduct the three measures of 52, or your band will come in early. I think it’s unlikely in a school production that you’ll have a Marshall who has that low F in part 3, measure 60. You can move that whole line up the octave. 28C is marked ‘Lively Gospel 2’ in the Piano Vocal Score, but ‘Gospel 4’ in the parts. I think doing it in 2 is the only way that makes any sense. Cuing out of the vamp at the bottom of piano vocal page 390 is hard from the piano. You may find it’s best to come to a stop and then restart at the gliss into measure 14. The YOPP!!! at the end needs to be loud and come in just a hair early, because it has to cut everything off. You should run that a number of times, so your JoJo knows exactly where to say it.

28D. Yopp!/Alone In The Universe (Reprise)

This summing-up section of the show is like the similar moments at the end of Ragtime (Epilogue) and Once On This Island (A Part of Us) Don’t let the tempos get too indulgent; we’re coming around the home stretch here.

29. Oh, The Thinks You Can Think! (Finale Act 2)

This number should sing itself, really. The only things to note are:

1)      The first trumpet part is in the wrong key in measure 4. I’m sorry to say that I don’t remember how off it is or what we did; except that it took us some time to figure out.

2)      The accelerando at 9 culminates in the original key at 14. Don’t start the number too fast, and don’t neglect the accel.

30. Green Eggs and Ham (Finale Bows: Swing)

This is one of those bows where the individual character bows are indicated to specific musical moments. Please make your choreographer aware of that. I’m sad that I can’t find my score to Maltby and Shire’s Big. I have this memory of those bows being extremely similar to these, and both shows were orchestrated by Doug Besterman, so I sense the whole Eggs-And-Ham swing thing may have been his idea to begin with. Does anyone know whether my hunch is on? The score modulates to some crummy keys. Couldn’t the section at 85 been in B? It’s also really wears the players out. By the time we were done with the 14 repeats we inserted for everybody’s personal bows, my brass weren’t happy, and the second show of the two show day was always a letdown. You ought to take your players into account as you plan those extra repeats you’ll unfortunately be asked to insert. A decent repeat is from 61-84.

31. Exit Music

Straightforward.

INSTRUMENTS YOU SHOULD TRY AND GET FOR YOUR PIT:

There’s somebody else on the web saying the show can’t be done right without all the books. It is a well-put-together orchestration, but it can in fact be done with less, and doing it with the whole orchestra with small voices in a small room, or in any room with poor sound reinforcement is just a bad idea, plain and simple. Don’t blast all these children out of the room with your huge and beautiful orchestra. The point of the musical is the story, not the kickin’ band.

You really do need a core rhythm section.

Bare minimum:

Piano Conductor

Bass

Drums

If you have more money and a medium sized space with decent sound reinforcement, add (in this order I think):

Reed 1 (picc, flute, Alto Sax, Clarinet)

Trumpet 1

Guitar 1 (electric, acoustic, Banjo)

Keyboard 2

Reed 2 ( Tenor Sax, Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Oboe)

If you have more money than that, and have a large space with excellent sound reinforcement, hire (in this order):

Violin 1

Reed 3 (Flute, Bari Sax, Clarinet, Bassoon)

Guitar 2 (Electric, Acoustic)

Trombone

Percussion

Add the other instruments if you have no issues with balance in your space, and a budget that can handle the whole shooting match.

8 comments

  1. reed 1 and 2 was easy to combine! there were a lot of solos in 2 that filled in some gaps.


  2. Does the vocal score include the cut “A Day for the Cat in the Hat” as an optional song? I had heard that it does.


    • Not sure. I think at one point it did, but it isn’t in my copy of the score. I am pretty sure it’s in the vocal selections, but obviously that doesn’t include pit parts.


  3. […] All of that’s water under the bridge as Seussical, post-Broadway, has gone on to become the new century’s most-produced musical.  I stumbled across a blog that talks about the score from a musical director’s point of view: […]


  4. The reason that sopranos wish to go up to an F# in 5. Here on Who, bar 77, is because the cast recording does so. It’s a different cut of music, however, and it’s been adapted for that recording so it fits together as a whole. This doesn’t happen in the show, though.


  5. fantastic resource! thanks so much for taking the time to post all of this detailed information. I am curious as to what you think about strings in the pit for this show. I am MD’ing a production where space is an issue. I have keyboard 1 (myself) and 2, one person covering as much of the drum/percussion book as one person can.. all three reeds, guitar 1, trombone, 2 trumpets and a bass. How important in your opinion is the cello and other strings? I see that you emphasized violin one if budget allows. If you have a chance, please let me know your thoughts on this. And also.. since you mentioned it, I’ve seen Lucky Stiff! and played bits and pieces of it, although I haven’t played the show in it’s entirety. Great stuff.


  6. […] Seussical: A Rough Guide For The M.D. | Music Directing the School …: Stage Stars Records – A Day for the Cat In the Hat (Guide Vocal Version) Music Lyrics. […]



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