The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, December 21, 2000
Bryan Batt to play Cat on B'way
The announcement that Rosie O'Donnell would
play the Cat in the Hat next month in the Broadway musical "Seussical"
means that Cat standby Bryan Batt will also get his first shot at playing
O'Donnell will take over the part from David
Shiner for four weeks, from Jan. 16 to Feb. 10, but she will not play
the weekend matinee performances. Those will be played by the New
Orleans-born Batt, who has been the standby for the role since "Seussical's" Boston
try-out in September.
The problem-plagued show opened Nov. 30
on Broadway, receiving mixed-to-negative reviews. ("Horton Hears a Boo" was Clive
Barnes' headline in The New York Post.) Right from the start, critics
have questioned the wisdom of casting mime artist Shiner in the Cat
in the Hat role. Shiner is said to be taking a vacation, but Broadway.com
columnist Ken Mandelbaum asked, "Since when does a lead take
a month off six weeks after opening night?"
"This has been the most interesting, crazy theater experience
of my life,"
said Batt from his dressing room at the Richard Rodgers Theater. "I
mean, the firings, the rumors, the Internet buzz. And now I believe
I will be part of a Broadway 'first': the first male actor to cover
a character woman."
Batt said he would play eight performances
beginning with the Saturday matinee Jan. 20, "and then we'll see what happens after that." He
added, "I'm going to be doing a different version of the role
than Rosie is, and the role has already gone through a lot of changes.
The Cat in the Hat has become a kind of master of ceremonies, a vaudeville
song-and-dance man who sort of helps the show along."
Asked about Shiner's status, Batt said, "I
believe he had this month off in his contract.
"But since the announcement that Rosie
is coming into the show, ticket sales have gone through the roof.
She's been very supportive to 'Seussical,' and a great Broadway supporter
in general. I think she recognizes that audiences love this show and
that the reviews it got were unfair. It was almost as if they were
reviewing the process we went through instead of the show itself.
"We had a lot of changes, but it was
all for the best of the show. I'm someone who thinks that what gets
on the stage is more important than how you got there."
For the record, "Seussical's" original costume and set
designers were let go, the juvenile lead was essentially replaced
with his standby, original (and still credited) director Frank Galati
was supplanted by Rob Marshall and the show's preview period extended
to accommodate major revisions. "The show was just about completely
changed," according to Batt.
O'Donnell told The New York Times she had
seen the show twice, "and
as a parent and Mom and someone who loves theater, this is one show
that should survive."
When producer Fran Weissler told O'Donnell
the show was "having
a hard time selling tickets," O'Donnell said, "Well, I'll
come in if you want."
O'Donnell, who has hosted the Tony Awards
show three times and starred on Broadway in "Grease" (which was also produced
by Fran and Barry Weissler), is credited with having kept "Titanic" afloat
by plugging it repeatedly on her syndicated daytime TV talk show.
Batt, who has played featured roles and
leads in New York in "Jeffrey,"
"Forbidden Broadway, "Sunset
Boulevard," "The Scarlet Pimpernel" and
most recently "Saturday Night Fever," in
which he was Monty, the deejay, said he took the standby job in "Seussical" for
"I suffered a knee injury in 'Saturday Night Fever' " --
sustained when he tripped on his platform shoes during an entrance
-- "and rather than have surgery, I elected to go with physical
therapy. Being available as a standby for someone else worked out
perfectly for me. That's why I left the role in 'Saturday Night Fever'
while it was still running to be a standby in 'Seussical.' "
Some people wondered whether the musically experienced -- and almost
always well-reviewed -- Batt wasn't also on hand in case musical novice
Shiner didn't work in the role. In any event, Batt has had a rather
high profile for a standby, being mentioned in columns and recently
turning up on the Broadway.com Web site taking photos -- and appearing
in several, one with O'Donnell -- at the show's opening night party.
"I'm just glad Rosie has helped the show and I'm going to
get to go on in the part," said Batt.
Asked if his mother, local theater supporter
(and sometime performer) Gayle Batt would be coming to see him, he
said, "Try and keep
her away. But the best thing is, this is the first show my little
nieces can see me in. They couldn't see 'Scarlet Pimpernel,' because
I got beheaded in that. And in 'Saturday Night Fever' I played a sleazy
character and every other word in the script was, shall we say, questionable.
"But now they can finally see their Uncle Bryan in a show." -
by David Cuthbert, Staff Writer