BWW Reviews: Stages St. Louis' Absolutely Delightful THE ARISTOCATS

By: Jun. 10, 2015

The feature length animated film, The Aristocats (1970), was the last project Walt Disney approved before his death in 1966. My son and I watched it several years ago on DVD, when he was just a little tyke. And then, in 2010 we attended Stages St. Louis' wonderful production of the show. Five years later I was little hesitant to bring him to their latest presentation, just because he's that much older, but I think he actually enjoyed it more the second time around. He's now at an age where he can really appreciate the work that goes into bringing these shows to the stage. He loved the performances and music, and so did I. Stages has put together an excellent show that, obviously, has appeal for kids of all ages (and adults as well), and it's currently gracing the stage of The Westport Playhouse. I think the intimacy of the venue acts to enhance the experience, bringing the audience that much closer to the action.

The story (adapted by Michael Bernard, who also provides additional lyrics) follows a family of felines who stand to inherit the fortune of their mistress, known only as Madame. She's altered her will to allow for their continued care after she passes, and her butler, Edgar, is none to happy about this turn of events. Not only is he allergic to the critters, but he also stands to gain monetarily if they just happen to "disappear". Thus, he hatches a plot to send the cats packing. But, he doesn't count on the wily and resourceful alley cat Thomas O'Malley coming to their rescue.

April Strelinger is excellent as Duchess, the mama cat who keeps a watchful eye on her brood. She's devoted to making sure they all are well mannered and polite, although they are constantly finding ways to get into mischief with one another. Ronan Ryan (Toulouse), Alex Meuret (Berlioz), and Maria Knasel (Marie) do very nice work as the kittens in her charge. David Schmittou is terrific and brimming with charm as Thomas O'Malley (he was also in the 2010 production), and he's aided in his efforts to return the cats to their home by Craig Blake (Scat Cat/Lafayette), Erik Keiser (Wacky Cat/Napoleon), and Stephen Barnowski (Hep Cat/Vichy). John Flack is properly villainous as the scheming butler, Edgar, and Michelle Burdette Elmore displays a sense of genuine concern as Madame. She also plays Amelia, who along with Abigail (Laurie McConnell), portray daffy geese who come to the aid of O'Malley when he finds himself immersed in water, and struggling to escape. McConnell is also quite good as the squeaky Roquefort, a brave little mouse who asks the alley cats for help.

Michael Hamilton directs and stages this treat with considerable aplomb. The performances are all very well done, and the music is a delight (music & lyrics by Richard and Robert Sherman, Al Rinker, Floyd Huddelston, Terry Gilkyson, with additional material by Bryan Louiselle). Justin Smolik does a splendid job with the musical direction, and Ellen Isom makes the choreography neatly fit the smaller confines. Garth Dunbar's costumes are simply adorable for the animals, and a perfect fit for the human characters. James Wolk's scenic design features some really cool paintings of cats as if they were painted by Picasso, Van Gogh, etc,. as well some nicely changeable backgrounds, and Matthew McCarthy's lighting keeps the action clearly in focus.

With a catchy score (especially"Thomas O'Malley Cat" and Ev'rybody Wants to be a Cat") and sharp performances, this is a great show every kid should have the chance to enjoy. And, with it running through June 28, 2015, they certainly have the opportunity. So get out to the West Playhouse and be thoroughly entertained by Stages St. Louis' current production of The Aristocats.

Photo credit: Peter Wochniak



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