BWW Reviews: CATS Take Over The Stage at Dutch Apple

Once upon a time, Andrew Lloyd Webber sat in an airport needing something to read on a flight, and he bought a book. As he read the book on the plane, he thought something to the effect of "this would make a great show!" And that show, gentle reader, was CATS, which opened in the West End in 1981 and promptly went to Broadway as well the following year. Anyone whose initial experience of musicals began after these events can have no idea of just how revolutionary Webber's transformation of T.S. Eliot's "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats" was to the musical theatre stage. Without CATS there would be no other gigantic, amazing, bookless or nearly bookless, sung-through musicals of astounding proportions. In other words, no LES MISERABLES (among others). CATS is currently on stage at Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre, and as directed and choreographed by Amy McCleary, it's still gigantic, and extremely visually appealing.

One improvement over the original (or the movie, if you insist) is the setting. That's varied in different countries and in different times, but the original setting is in a junkyard. This production follows what began as the Finnish staging of using an apparently abandoned theme park or carnival, which vastly improves the ending, as it uses a swan boat instead of a tire as the means of transportation. The set, designed by Christine Peters, reaches out into the audience, which is at several points treated by having the feline stars of the show visiting them as they sit. Equally impressive is the costuming by John P. White, made for this production and fitting the individual cast members perfectly - look out especially for the cat-suits of Monkustrap, Victoria, Mungojerrie and Rumpleteaser, Old Deuteronomy, Grizabella, Rum Tum Tugger, and the incredible Mr. Mistoffelees. (If you don't know the show, no, that is not practically the entire cast.)

The program has notes by Artistic Consultant Tom Prather for those who might feel confused, but there were still one or two people within this reviewer's earshot who seemed baffled as to what this show is about. It's about... yes... cats. It's particularly about the cats described by Eliot in his poetry. It's most specifically about the night of the Jellicle Cats' ball, and the cats who attend it, especially those hoping to have the evening culminate in being specially chosen by group leader Old Deuteronomy to ride off to the "Heaviside Layer" to come back in a new feline life. The cats who are particularly vying for that privilege are the elderly Gus the Theatre Cat, impressively played by Andrew Ryan Rix (who also plays a rather spectacular and debonair Bustopher Jones and a swashbuckling Growltiger) and a bedraggled, sadder-but-wiser Grizabella, played by an emphatically vocally endowed Annie Freres. Grizabella is, of course, the cat responsible for singing "Memory," which became the breakout hit of the show back in the day.

Some of the other more notable cats of the production are Munkustrap, Donovan Hoffer, a bit of a ringmaster and aide to Old Deuteronomy (a powerful Andre Dion Wills), the infamous villain Macavity (a feline version of Sherlock Holmes' nemesis Moriarty, played by a suitably fiendish Alexander Cruz) who kidnaps Old Deuteronomy, and Mr. Mistoffelees, who is brought to the fore to bring back Old Deuteronomy using his mystical feline powers. Michael Phillips as Mistoffelees brings an outstanding effort to one of the most important solo dances in the show, with a fine series of fouettes a tournant. (The part calls for fewer fouettes in a row than does the BLACK SWAN pas de deux of "Swan Lake," but it still calls for far too many for mere mortal dancers.) Victoria, the white cat (played the night of this review by Cheyanne Leid, who is amazingly only 15), also has a fine dance solo, as she introduces the Jellicle Ball.

Mungojerrie and Rumpleteaser, the orange-striped dynamic duo of troublemakers, are played by Dutch Apple veteran and frequent choreographer Kerry Lambert and by Dutch Apple veteran Jessica Humphrey, whose clever English music hall routine is capped off by a fiercely acrobatic double-windmill.

Finally there is Rum Tum Tugger (Drew Stark), the rock star of the feline pack, whose dancing is secondary to his vocals. McCleary not only puts him through the main vocals of his own "Rum Tum Tugger" number and the "Old Deuteronomy" and "Mr. Mistoffelees" numbers, as is usual, but sets him up in a comic turn as the great, red-eyed Rumpus Cat in Munkustrap's "The Battle of the Pekes and the Pollicles". Stark's Mick Jagger of the Jellicle world is more than sufficiently swaggering, although perhaps his mane could be just a trace wilder. Like any Grizabella, any Rum Tum Tugger has a fairly high bar to live up to thanks to the stars of the original West End and Broadway productions; Freres and Stark acquit themselves quite satisfactorily in their parts.

The one thing that lacks a theme in CATS is the music - rather than being all of a sort, it is one of Webber's eclectic shows in which almost every number falls a different musical genre. "Mungojerrie and Rumpleteaser," as noted, is a music hall number; "Macavity" is a slinky, sultry women's number for a group of Vegas chorines; Old Deuteronomy's "The Ad-dressing Of Cats" is sometimes called hymnal, but that is the function of "The Journey To The Heaviside Layer" - "Ad-dressing" is pure Gilbert and Sullivan, with a chorus straight out of "H.M.S. Pinafore".

This production of CATS is lavish, loud, and spectacular; it's worth a look for any fan of the show, or anyone who would like to become one. Dog owners are invited, too. At Dutch Apple through June 29; call 717-898-1900 or visit www.dutchapple.com for tickets.

Photo Credit Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre

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From This Author Marakay Rogers

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