cATS review   Leave a comment

Thank You to my boyfriend Matt Smith for writings these guest reviews for CAtS and Legally Blonde. Legally Blonde review to follow

       

Theatre Review: CATS

The 2015 Amherst PTA’s selection was challenging, but they eventually chose a very unique longtime running musical that ran for twenty-one years at the New London Theatre in London, England, and eighteen years at the Wintergarden theatre on Broadway in New York City. Cats is based on T.S. Eliot’s poetry, telling a story about the annual gathering of the Jellicle cats. It’s called the Heavy Side Layer, but for unknown reasons. Each one would describe in his or her own words about what they like to do best in song and dance during the evening of the Jellicle Ball, and then one special cat would be likely chosen by Old Deuteronomy, to ascend to the Heavy Side Layer. 

The setting for Cats is at an old junkyard, made up on stage of piles of wood and trash, and the background is a starry night sky with a moon. It’s the same setting from start to finish. The overture at the beginning, features on the big screen an informal setting where cat’s eyes pop up one after another while the audience finds out what role each cast member plays. The screen went up a little early before the credits finished rolling, but once the stage curtains opened, there were more cat’s eyes staring all around. A moment later, each cat starts to appear one at a time before the Prologue of Jellicle songs begins.

After the Prologue, the cats go from their world of their own type of behavior, to turning their heads to the audience, as if they wonder who humans are. The Naming of the Cats is where they speak in unison to the soft rhythm of keyboard music shining in the dim light. They describe their names being unique, and mostly in three parts. When they invite the audience to the Jellicle Ball, the music beat picks up, and then Victoria, the white cat, is doing a ballet type dance with Quaxo. The other cats perform a song based of their type of behavior and trait.

The music on each of the songs, the Old Gumbie Cat, The Rum Tum Tugger, Grizabella, the Glamour Cat, Bustopher Jones, Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer, Old Deuteronomy, The Battle of the Pekes and the Pollicles, all are based on the character’s moods, and the tone of the music is based on character’s movements and improvisation. The music consists of a mix of jazz, pop, and the tone of the keyboard blends well with Cat’s club style, even though it’s a little off key with the orchestra sometimes. The piano/keyboard player is the music director named Ken Grinnell. The Jellicle Ball is where the cats dance to the light of the moon, and after Old Deuteronomy describes in song which cat will be ascended to heaven, Grizabella returns to conclude the first Act, hoping she can have rebirth by singing Memory, one of the musical’s favorites, and sung by Jonatha McCarthy.

In Act II, Old Deuteronomy mentions Moments of Happiness, and there are some additional stories from other cats named Asparagus (Gus), the theatre cat, played by Rich Sparks, and Skimbleshanks, the Railway Cat, portrayed by Russell Arrowsmith. When the mystery cat, Macavity comes out of the blue and kidnaps Old Deuteronomy, the sound effects and lightning comes into play. There are fog and strobe effects, followed by when Macavity pulls the plug to leave the cats in the dark. All seems lost until Mr. Mistoffelees, played by Dan Merriman, comes to restore order with his magic show, and eventually makes Old Deuteronomy reappear. The song is where the cats dance around in a couple big circles as they are happy to be together while the audience is pleased also. When Grizabella returns and sings Memory again, she’s the one chosen to ascend to heaven, and then Old Deuteronomy explains the importance of relationships between humans and cats as the cast sings The Ad-dressing of Cats to close the show.

Cats is a challenging musical for several reasons. First, there is no actual plot or analysis for the audience to understand what the main reason is. Second, the dancing and chorography is challenging. Each character wears a cat hood, except those with long, bushy, hair, gets a coating of cat-make up on their faces, and wears a costume to blend with their faces, so they look like real cats. They have to play a role of a cat’s behavior, and do stuff similar to what real cats like to do, such as play a ball of yarn, roll around, and meow and hiss, when necessary. It looks easy when the audience sees the performance on stage, but the cast understands they had to practice music numbers heavily and they were challenging period. Thanks to chorographer, Vouli Anthimidou, her dance classes would be established with such precision. Some of the dancers were real talented ballet and stage dancers, which were very special to look at.

It is mostly singing and dancing, and the actors/actresses who gave stand out performances were people such as Jonatha McCarthy as Grizabella, singing Memory, and Russell Arrowsmith as Skimbleshanks and the ensemble singing Skimbleshanks  The Railway Cat. Since this musical was originally from England, It came as no surprise as people would sing in British ascents, and Russell is originally from England, so he fits in with his singing tone. Mark Crowell played the Rum Tum Tugger, and his song made the audience laugh during his performance, especially his end piece. Roger Hurd, who’s been the director of a couple of shows at the PTA, and the Amato Center for It’s a Wonderful Life, portrayed the Old Rumpus Cat and the Fiend for the Pekes and the Pollicles, and his acts always make a crowd pleaser, so this show for him was no exception.

The musical has only a few sound pieces, which might be the easiest part of the whole show, but the stage design goes from boring looking, since it’s a junk yard, to a magical place with lots of storytelling and special effects. Some of the cats work with props whether arriving on stage, or descending into heaven, such as Grizabella did at the end. Guiding through the process and learning mostly was difficult itself, but if anyone sees Cats in his or her lifetime, there would be mixed reviews about people’s thoughts just like the cats in the show. It’s probably one of the nine lives utilized for theater.

Ratings:

Music: 7: A little off beat sometimes, but good piano playing by the music director. Favorite Songs: Memory (Grizabella by Jonatha McCarthy), Mr. Mistofflees, Skimbleshanks, Rum Tum Tugger, Pekes and Pollicles, sung and performed by Fiend, Roger Hurd

Dance: 9: Challenging, but very well practiced, choreographed by Vouli Anthimidou

Set Design: 7: Mostly Basic, but some good lightning and strobe effects

Acting: 8: Good job always from Roger Hurd, Jonatha and Patrick McCarthy, Russell Arrowsmith, Rich Sparks, Robyn  Holley, Sarah Vasques, and the Fichera family. Always enjoy meeting you all. Nice to also meet other beautiful cats.

Overall: 7.5

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Posted April 20, 2015 by theatretechdiva in Amherst PTA

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