San Diego, CA--- Cats by Andrew Lloyd Webber first opened in the West End in 1981 and then on Broadway in 1982 where it won the Tony Award for Best Musical. The London production ran for 21 years and the Broadway production for 18. In 1997 it became the longest running musical in Broadway history. Sept. 10,2000 was its last performance becoming Broadway’s second longest running show in history. It was made into a movie in 1998 and has been translated into over 20 languages.
I don’t remember how many times Cats passed through San Diego brought to us by Broadway/San Diego, Moonlight Amphitheatre and most likely others I may have missed but this latest rendering by San Diego Musical Theatre through April 6th is a lively and extremely entertaining production under the direction of James Vasquez with Janet Renslow’s on target choreography and musical direction by San Diego Theatre Critics pick for ‘Outstanding Musical Direction’ (2013), Don Le Master and his sixteen piece orchestra.
Cats happen to be my preference of choice when it comes to pets. My late husband and I loved our cats, Cocoa (indoors) and Tiger (outdoors). Never the twain met because of conflicting personalities and interests. Both my late husband and I loved the little hairball spitting creature so much so the we had a copy of T.S. Elliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats out for reading at all times. (Webber’s musical is based on the Elliot book of poems).
He liked to think that Cocoa was his cat but as you know, cats belong to themselves and select the lap of their choice at will. Oft times we would vie for his attention, and that’s how it went until Cocoa went to cat heaven and to my knowledge is still there.
The fable (although loosely defined) is supposed to be an annual gathering of Jellicle Cats assembled to choose which of their breed gets a chance at another life here on earth. Kürt Norby leads the troupe, as Old Deuteronomy the sage of cat-dom. Norby is perfect to represent one who has lived many lives and “buried nine wives”.
It is Deuteronomy also who gets to choose which Jellicle Cat will go to Cat heaven and come back again in a new life (remember, they do have nine of them). He’s the cat’s meow!
For those who have never seen the show, it might be difficult to imagine an entire cast of actors dressed to look like, well… cats all twenty or so of them not including the chorus of cats. They all look different (Janet Pitcher, costumes); have different looks and makeup (Kathleen Kenna: some look more like cats than others) whilst each one has a different role to play.
Most crawl, hiss, play, and wrinkle their noses, pounce, stalk throughout the audience or roll around and scratch themselves when not singing or dancing, which isn’t that often. This show is one of constant and continual movement, across, in between, on top of and behind the junkyard look a like set (from Fullerton Civic light Opera).
The show opens to a beautiful, but oft times too loud Overture followed by an assortment of junkyard cats gathered on stage to explain to the audience the Jellicle Tribe of Cats (Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats, company) and how the cats are named, Naming of the Cats, company.
The long journey of the junkyard cats begins as the cats on stage invite the humans in the audience to the ritual ball. (Invitation to the Ball) Victoria, Mistoffelees, Munkustrap and Company (trained ballerina Arielle Meads’ Victoria the white cat is exquisite to watch as she signals us that the Ball is about to begin. both Dylan Hoffinger’s Mistoffelees and Cody Walker’s Munkustrap inform us as well that tonight is night that Old Deuteronomy gets to choose.
Each with different personalities having their own turn at telling their story and watching the all singing all dancing musical we meet Jennyanydots, the Old Gumbie Cat, (Courtney Fero), the Rum Tum Tugger, (Justin Ray), Macavity (Keith Johnson) and Mr. Mistoffelees (Dylan Hoffinger a standout), Magical Mr. Mistoffelees, (one of my favorite numbers) and the wonderful Keith Johnson as Macavity (Macavity).
Parrott is quite elegant looking as the elite ‘fat cat’ Bustopher Jones dressed to the nines in a tux. He’s the one at the clubs at night. He also does a memorable number as Gus the old and frail theatre cat suffering from palsy. “He’s no longer a threat to theatre mice”. “I once played a Growltiger. I can do it again”. (Growltiger’s Last Stand).
Slinking around and trying to go unnoticed, Grizabella (Debbie Prutsman) is the shabbily dressed and tousled outcast, the once ‘Glamorous Cat’ who has fallen on hard times. Her rendition of the showstopper “Memories” although ear piercing loud at one point, is a heartbreaker for sure.
Every time I see the show I am amazed that the all dance, all singing show requires a certain level of actor, one who has quality dance experience (jazz, tap, classical, ballet, and slithering to name a few) as well as, for those ‘important fat cats’ a strong voice to go along. The one thing I missed in this production is the more feline looking quirk of wrinkled noses and little cat paw movements. Aside from that personal observation, that might have absolutely no impact on anyone else, San Diego Musical Theatre’s cast has met all the requirements for a spectacular run. Bring the family.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through April 6th
Organization: San Diego Musical Theatre
Production Type: Musical
Where: North Park Theatre, 2891 University Ave., San Diego, CA92104
Ticket Prices: $26.00-$46.00