Bryan Batt Press - Peter Filichia
BroadwayOnline, January, 2001
Batt Goes to Bat in Seussical
by Peter Filichia

Peter Filichia
NEW YORK — Bryan Batt has animal magnetism.

He showed that this weekend, when he went on as The Cat in the Hat in Seussical. His fans — and he has plenty, believe me — roared when he made his entrance. How they responded to every move he made and every note he sang. For them, he definitely has animal magnetism.

But indeed, the young actor has animal magnetism in another way. He just seems drawn to roles where he must play animals.

For this isn’t the first time that the actor whose last name is that of an animal (well, sorta) has played a Cat. He was on Broadway as Munkustrap in Cats for a year-and-a-half. This is not to be confused with the Andrew Lloyd Webber Cat he played so winningly in Jeffrey, both on stage and on screen.

When he did his Drama Desk-nominated stint in Forbidden Broadway Cleans up Its Act, he was in the animal-centric Lion King parody. His costume had a Mickey Mouse planted firmly on his head. That’s funny — for Mickey Mouse was an important icon to Batt while he was growing up in New Orleans. In school, he toyed with the idea of creating a comic book character that would supplant Mickey Mouse. Only his was called Claude the (you guessed it) Cat.

Even Batt’s backstory has animal magnetism. His first trip to the theater — at New Orleans’ legendary Saenger Theater — was with that musical that features a dog: Annie. He was so moved that he desperately wanted to be like those kids up there, and was thrilled when he landed a part in his third-grade class play — where he was cast as a reindeer.

"But he was Rudolph," Batt told me with pride. "I had a light-up nose, and when I did my dance routine, the audience clapped so hard I can still hear it."

The animal roles continued when he played a kangaroo at Toys-R-Us, but did get to play a human role in high school. Not that he could totally shake the animal imagery — for he was Buffalo Bill in Annie Get Your Gun.

"Well," he said, "I did Emile in South Pacific, too." He stopped to offer that trademark grin that is as wide as a bat when it outstretches its wings. "I’ve got to find the videotape to see just how awful I was."

He couldn’t have been that bad, for he managed to get a good deal of work when at Tulane (where he did — more animal imagery — The Zoo Story). He hasn’t done badly here in the city, either. Already he’s the answer to the trivia question, "Who was in four straight shows at the Minskoff?" — for Batt flew there in the Joseph revival, Sunset Boulevard, The Scarlet Pimpernel, and Saturday Night Fever. For the last named, he was the deejay whom he characterized as " a real dog."

While in Pimpernel, Batt stood by for Douglas Sills, and went on "about 50 times." He’s frank in admitting that this was a difficult assignment, especially given that he must hear the audience moan in disappointment when the announcement is made before the curtain. "So I didn’t want to stand by in another show and be number two."

Fate played a part in Batt’s taking the standby role. "While I was doing Fever, I sustained an injury," he reported. "My doctor said I could either have surgery or physical therapy, so I opted for the therapy. That meant I had to leave Fever in favor of a less demanding job, and that’s when Seussical turned up."

Batt heard the score, loved it ("Steve and Lynn’s work is impeccable, heartfelt and soulful"), and flew to Boston, where a storm of chaos awaited the show. All Batt could do was watch, for — despite many rumors that he would go on — he never did.

Not until two weeks ago, when he went on with only a few hours’ notice. "It felt good," he said. "I do think I’m right for the part."

Still, here he is, standing by for the Cat, hearing the bad press on David Shiner, discovering that he’d been replaced, temporarily or not, by Rosie O’Donnell. "But she didn’t want to do the Saturday and Sunday matinees, so I’ll be doing them as long as she’s here," he said. "At least they’re making it well-known in the press that she won’t be here, so I don’t think anybody’s going to expect her when they get me."

Hard, too is hearing that Chevy Chase and Whoopi Goldberg rumors, where he’s ready and rarin’ to go and do eight a week. "I’m still grateful to be working on Broadway, and know it’s an honor. I keep telling myself, ‘It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish.’" — quoting a line made famous by another rumored Cat in the Hat, Tommy Tune.

To a legion of fans, he’s far from finished. The www.bryanbatt.com website gets a lot of hits, and I can’t think of any theater personage who isn’t a household name and yet has as many fans who act as if he is. When he told me that he played Tony Cavendish in the workshop of The Royal Family of Broadway, I found myself nodding, for he sounds so right for the role. God, I hope he gets it. (God, I hope the musical works out its rights problems and gets on, too.)

Of course I had to ask if Batt likes genuine cats, and if he has one or two at home. "I can’t," he moaned. "I’m totally allergic to them. I sneeze a lot if they remotely come near me."

Not on stage, though. From the enthusiasm at Sunday’s matinee, there are those who’d like to see Batt play the cat now and forever. Did Batt bat a home run in the role? Let’s say he hit a triple — for, as baseball aficionados know, getting a three-base hit is a much harder achievement.