'Cats': Highly Recommended
There are musicals and there are MUSICALS!. In my position, seeing over 200 plays a year, many of which are musicals, there are times, I will see the same play more than once in the same year. For sure, over a period of time, there are many plays that I will see countless times. The beauty of Live Theater is that each director will interpret a show in his or her way and every cast brings their own energy to the roles they play. 'Cats' , the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical based on the writings of T.S. Eliot ( “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats”) has been around for over 20 years and I have witnessed countless productions, including a very special production on the stage of Marriott Theater in Lincolnshire, back in 2003, directed by a young creative choreographer/director, Marc Robin. It was an unusual production space for this large scale, large set show, moving it to the “round” stage, where a director is limited by space and having very little set. Robin did the show and it was pure magic.
Now, eleven years later, Robin, once again has taken on the task of moving this production to the same stage, with many new players and has done so with great skill and agility and his own dynamic understanding of what this play is all about. While it is called 'Cats' and the characters on the stage all represent cats (of all different complexions and types), it is really about how every human is different and each has his own story to tell. In this case, the cats represent us! Each Jellicle cat has their own characteristics as on this special night, they await the choice as to who will be the cat chosen to be granted a new life.
As most of you know, unless you have not had the opportunity to witness the show, this is a musical story with no actual dialogue. Every part of the story is told through Webber’s music and lyrics (except for a few odes and poems). The song that most everyone knows that came from this show is “Memory”, which is sung by the old battered cat Grizabella (who in this production is played to perfection by the amazing Heidi Kettenring). The first time she sings this, you will get chills, and when she truly belts it out in the second act, you will find a small tear dripping down your cheek. Watching her on stage is worth the price of the ticket that you purchase. But, as wonderful as she is, the powerful cast of players assembled for this production is amazing, from the smallest of roles to the largest of characters, and despite no junkyard set (the original set is filled with all types of junk and tires), we don’t care!
Robin brings his magic and his energy to an even higher level as he brings us more gymnastics, ballet and even tap to the dance numbers in this show. The ensemble is filled with solid talent and while Robin has trimmed a bit here and a bit there, he has fine tuned this show to a perfect balance, that will even make cat-haters feel good about the characters they have just witnessed on stage.
Old Deuteronomy (a powerful performance by Matthew R. Jones) the elder cat who must select the cat that gets a new life is perfect and what a voice. When he does the finale “Addressing Of a Cat”, you truly feel that one should change their opinion of the cats they have always avoided and feared and count on them as “ordinary, but special people”. Others members of this larger than life cast are: Liam Quealy, Alexandra Palkovic, J Tyler Whitmer, Patrick Keefe, Jake Klinkhammer (Rum Tum Tugger, as you have never seen him before), Sam Rogers, Summer Naomi Smart (a dynamic Bombalurina), Laura Savage (the adorable Rumpelteazer), William Carlos Angulo, Shanna Heverly(who gets to do a portion of “Memory” as Sillabub and does a rousing job during “The Moment of Happiness”), Johanna McKenzie Miller (Jellyorum), Tammy Mader (Jennyanydots), Raymond Interior, Luke Manley, Melissa Zaremba, George Andrew Wolff (a wonderful Bustopher Jones), Brian Bohr, Adrienne Storrs, Buddy Reeder (Mungojerrie), Ellen Green, Christine Mild and Andy Planck. Sam Rogers also does a solid Macavity and George Andrew Wolff plays two other powerful cameos; Asparagus (the old actor cat and Growltiger).
The songs are not, for the most part ones that you will hum on the way home, or maybe ever! (Except for “memory”), but along with the dancing, you will find yourself enjoying every minute of this two hours of feline fun and storytelling on a small stage (with what set design there is by Thomas M. Ryan, that fills the venue, if not the stage with junk), wonderful lighting effects (Jesse Klug), magnificent costumes (Nancy Missimi), clever props (Sally Weiss) and sound (Robert E. Gilmartin). The musical direction by Ryan T.Nelson and the supervision by Patti Garwood allow us to hear every word and understand the story as told by this fantastic, highly energetic cast. They had already done an early show on opening night, and yet, their energy was as perfect as if they had just stepped on the stage for the first time. Bravo! Bravo! No matter how many times you may have seen this show, you owe it to yourself to clean up the litter box and head off to Marriott Lincolnshire Theatre to experience it again. It is pure magic!