BWW Review: Legendary Broadway Musical CATS Enchants Audiences at the Norris Theatre

In the history of musical theater, there is little question of the cultural significance of "CATS." It was the first branded spectacle musical and its biggest song "Memory" became an instant standard. All the big musicals that have come along since owe a debt of gratitude to the special effects and overall spectacle "CATS" allowed the world to experience for the first time onstage.

Due to the size of the production and the incredible cast requirement for dozens of triple-threat actors and actresses who can handle the operatic score and dancing from tap to jazz to ballet, "CATS" is a treat to behold for audiences of all ages whenever a production comes to town. With its dazzling choreography, whimsical feline costumes and magnificent score, "CATS" won seven Tony awards including Best Musical when it opened in 1982.. The show has endured for more than 30 years as one of the most breathtaking theatrical experiences of all time, becoming the second-longest running show in Broadway history, as well as a world-wide sensation.

Andrew Lloyd Webber's legendary Broadway musical is being presented at the Norris Theatre in Rolling Hills Estates through May 10 directed and choreographed by Janet Renslow with musical direction by Robert Hoyt. Based on T.S. Eliot's collection of poems, "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats," the musical tells the imaginative story of the annual gathering of the Jellicle cats in a ramshackle junk yard under the full Moon, where one of them will be chosen to ascend to the Heaviside Layer to be reborn. Through a series of song and dance vignettes, each cat reveals their unique personality and history while trying to show the wise elder, Old Deuteronomy (he show's Musical Director Robert Hoyt), that they are the most worthy of a new life.

Along with Robert Hoyt, there are several standout performers in the Norris cast, most notably Gina D'Acciaro as the more mature glamour puss Grizabella. Her rendition of "Memory" is a show stopper, especially when sung as a duet with Bailey Sonner as Sillabub. Joel Abelson brings sheer joy to rogue cat Rum Tum Tugger, and incredibly acrobatic Jake Du Pree adds pure magic to Mistoffelees cavorting antics. The lovely white cat who is never introduced by name adds spectacular ballet throughout the show. Gus the theatre Cat (Jason M Hammond who also plays Bustopher Jones, the cat about town) shares memories of his time onstage before his shaking paws reduced him to hanging out at the stage door, accompanied by the dulcet voiced Kirklyn Robinson as Jellyorum.

Vaudevillian song and dance team Mungojerrie and Rumpleteaser (Steven Rada and Alison Boresi) incorporate acrobatic tumbling, a real hit with the children in the audience. Jon M. Wailin portrays Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat, his song complimented by a junkyard railway car compiled by the ensemble using bits and pieces of the junk yard set to great effect. The mysteriously absent Macavity; The Mystery Cat (Gabriel Navarro) is introduced via a sexy duet sung by Demeter (Amber-Sky Skipps) and Bombalurina (Rachel Davis).

There are many interactive moments during the show when several cats roam around the audience, engaging many to join in the fun with them. With 23 cast members, it's difficult to believe the multi-talented cast rehearsed for only 3 weeks to master the incredibly difficult and intricate score as well as the variety of dance numbers, let alone only having 2 complete technical rehearsals on the set before opening. What dedication!

"There is simply nothing else like 'CATS," and there is no better way to introduce families to the wonders of live, professional theater than with this enthralling show," said Palos Verdes Performing Arts Artistic Director, James Gruessing. "The musical completely transports the audience into a stunning, feline fantasy world with no seat further than 10 rows from the stage."

I completely agree! Do your best to get "CATS" tickets for closing weekend with performances on Friday, May 8 at 8pm, Saturday, May 9 at 2pm and 8pm, and Sunday, May 10 at 2pm. Ticket prices are $45-$55, and $25 for youth ages 17 and under. For more information or to purchase tickets call the box office at (310) 544-0403, ext. 221, or visit www.palosverdesperformingarts.com.

The Norris Theatre is located on the Palos Verdes Peninsula at 27570 Norris Center Drive in Rolling Hills Estates. Free parking is available adjacent to the theatre, and the facility is wheelchair accessible.



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From This Author Shari Barrett