Review: CATS at Music Theatre Wichita

Fresh and Memorable

By: Sep. 13, 2023
Review: CATS at Music Theatre Wichita

Music Theatre Wichita’s final show of the 2023 summer season is purr-ennial favorite, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s, Cats! Did you know that Cats is based on a work by T. S. Elliot entitled “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats?” True story, but don’t go digging for a plot.

This is a special tail (pun intended) of cats gathering on a celebratory night, under an opalescent full moon, for The Jellicle Ball, and one feline will be chosen for The Journey to the Heaviside Layer to be reborn into a new life chosen by Old Deuteronomy, the Jellicle patriarch, powerfully played by the memorable Adam Richardson.

So fur, so good?

Any Wichitan of a certain age will be delighted to see an homage to the much-beloved amusement park, Joyland! We are greeted by a mash-up of the dilapidated wooden roller coaster, sign and other beloved icons. The cats prance and roll out from nooks, crannies and hiding spots on this imaginative set. A refreshing take on a musical that was once the longest-running show on Broadway. Kudos to scenic designer Jordan Slusher and his team. Expertly lit by Yael Lubetzky.

The cast of kitties make a playful entrance and the show starts full of energy and lore. Director/choreographer Chaz Wolcott brings experience and artistry to this production. Even though it’s familiar, it’s so fresh! Full of exuberance and sensitivity.

The orchestra is animated and playing all your favorite Cats melodies, and signature synth sounds, conducted by Melissa Yanchak.

The Rum Tum Tugger is a crowd pleaser. Carson Hampton Palmer has the swagger and bravado this Tom needs. He’s makes it look easy, but his prowess is undeniable.

Mungojerrrie and Rumpleteazer are two balls of joy! Joshua Messmore (Mungojerrie) and Jenna Bienvenue (Rumpleteazer), are likely fresh from the catnip and frolicking around with clever and proportionate bags of cotton candy and popcorn, they are so feisty!

The Jellicle Ball sequence is hypnotic and enchanting. Gillian Lynne’s original choreography from the 1982 production is a theatrical spectacle fueled by expressiveness, genius, and lots of sweat, no doubt. Utterly magical. I am transported!

The most recognizable song is the famous Memory, emotionally sung by Jennifer Marcum (Grizabella). She will break your heart! There is a universal fear of growing older, and thus we relate to the aging and ostracized Grizabella, wondering where the joy and love will come from next.

In the second act, we meet dear old Gus, The Theatre Cat, as introduced by the nimble Jellyorum. Hailey Hyde (Jellylorum) tells of Bronson Norris Murphy’s (Gus) illustrious past on the stage, and he leaps at the opportunity to recreate The Italian Aria, which is a beautifully sung yet amusingly comical duet between the two. He’s suddenly as good as mew!

In a sexy, purring song with the amazing Emma Ogea (Demeter) and marvelous Ranease Brown (Bobalurina), weaving the backstory of troublemaker, Macavity, we learn who’s kidnapped Old Deuteronomy. Steamy and mysterious.

Jackson Wood (Mistoffelees) illustrates the fluidity, strength, and cunning of cats honorably through dance and song. He’s remarkable.

The costumes are what you want and expect from Cats, by designers Mia Siegert and David Williamson, furry accessories, and each character is a one-of-a-kind. Sleek, unique, and chic. Essentially, the cat’s pajamas!

Hair and makeup are an integral part of this feline fantasy and everyone looks fresh from the groomer thanks to designer Joshua Harris and company.

Music Theatre Wichita’s Cats is an invigorating show, both paying homage to the original production, and giving a contemporary vibe. Feral and cultivated. Purring and prowling. I am inspired, and my respect for this classic is rekindled. MTW does not miss, and this kitty is Best In Show. Meow!

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