"Cats" May 12, 2007
Sleek and Lively “Cats” Captivates Center
By Glen Creason
While it might not be a prerequisite, it certainly helps in appreciating the Broadway musical “Cats” to be a servant of the pointy-eared masters. When you combine the musical genius of Andrew Lloyd Weber, the surprisingly light-hearted words of the great poet T.S. Eliot and the behavior of felines together you get a smash-hit that has enthralled theater-lovers, music-lovers and ailurophiles for twenty-six years. This little fitting of the cat’s pajamas pranced at the Performing Arts Center over the weekend, shining like a well-groomed feline and demonstrating the beauty of the score that has so many great songs. Yet, despite the memorable music, “Cats” is very much a dance show too which was emphasized here to great effect. This show, mounted by Troika entertainment out of Washington D.C. has taken great care to treat the classic with respect and plenty of production muscle including marvelous sets, costumes, lighting and fine performers throughout.
Even with all the obvious money on stage the show hinges totally on the many cat characters to maintain a sort of happy litter of rascals, noble beasts, scamps and mysterious moggies. One by one the cats, as described in Mr. Eliot’s poem “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” are introduced: the chubby Gumbie Cat, the outcast has-been Grizabella, big old Bustapher Jones, the spunky Mungoejerry and Rumpleteaser, Old sage Deuteronomy, player-Tom cat Rum Tum Tigger, the fierce Growltiger, the rail-cat Skimbleshanks, the mysterious Macavity and the fearsome Mister Mistoffelees. T.S. Eliot obviously studied his masters since almost all of the characteristics of our feline bosses are exemplified in these characters. The cuteness of Jennyanydots, the quiet wisdom of Deuteronomy, the faded glamour of Grizabella, the cartoonish yet loveable Bustapher, the peripatetic Skimbleshanks, the naughty Mistoffeles and the fun-loving pair Mungoejerry and Rumpleteaser demonstrate feline hi-jinks quite well. Just like the wandering furry ones, the cast sometimes leaves the stage and moves in bratty ways through the surprised audience.
Of course, this is a musical and the songs are central to the show, especially the classic “Memory” that can make or break a performance. At Cerritos Angie Smith as Grizabella gave a genuinely magnificent reading in both versions of the song, reaching portions of Artesia with high notes struck at the conclusion. Also excellent here in Cerritos were Philip Peterson as Old Deuteronomy, Joanna Silvers as Rumpleteaser, Ryan Patrick Farrell as Mistoffeles, Anissa Hartline as Griddlebone and Christopher Sidoli as Gus the Theater Cat. Many of the roles are especially demanding since they required singing and exhuberant dance routines together that were accomplished with aplomb at Cerritos. The cast is young, enthusiastic and energetic but there is a polish that shows from many performances in a Cats costume. Some of the very best moments of the show were total ensemble pieces that involve the full-twenty cast members together including the wonderful “Naming of Cats,” the electrifying “Jellicle Ball,” and the spectacular “Journey to the Heavyside Layer.” Sashaying through three decades of song and cat-dance this show seems to be as full of fun and surprises as the mighty felines themselves.