Willie Dee (Skimbleshanks), Emily McLoughlin (Jennyanydots) and Kyle Anderson (Munkustrap) take the Flat Rock Playhouse stage in CATS.  See full review on page 19. (photo by James W. Johnson)
Willie Dee (Skimbleshanks), Emily McLoughlin (Jennyanydots) and Kyle Anderson (Munkustrap) take the Flat Rock Playhouse stage in CATS. See full review on page 19. (photo by James W. Johnson)

Archived Story

Flat Rock Playhouse presents Andrew Lloyd Webber’s CATS

Published 10:36pm Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Flat Rock Playhouse presents its second Andrew Lloyd Webber show of the season, the musical CATS.

Running through Oct. 6 at the Playhouse Downtown, the show’s lyrics from T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, set to award-winning music by Webber, tell the story of the annual gathering of Jellicle cats to decide which cat will ascend to the Heaviside Layer and return to a new life.

Opening at the West End in London in 1981, the show ran for 21 years as the longest running musical in the history of the British theatre. The production also had an 18-year run as the second longest-running show on Broadway. Among its several awards, it received Best Musical at both the Laurence Olivier Awards and the Tony Awards.

With choreography a key element to the show, the show has no script and is completely told through the songs comprised of Eliot’s poetry with the exception of “Memory”, with lyrics by Trevor Nunn.

For example, “Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats” explains the purpose of their gathering and “The Invitation to the Jellicle Ball” signals the beginning of the Jellicle Ball. Munkustrap (Kyle Anderson) introduces the members of the tribe, beginning with “The Old Gumbie Cat” about the plump Jennyanydots (Emily McLoughlin). When the old and shabby Grizabella (Hannah Rose de Flumen) enters, the cats back away as they sing “Grizabella: The Glamour Cat”. The main celebration begins as the cats sing, dance to “The Jellicle Ball”. Afterward, Grizabella reappears and sings a few refrains of “Memory” to emphasize her decrepit condition.

The multi-talented 18-member cast sings and dances through the story. Some of the highlights include exquisite dancing by Maria Rodriguez as Victoria the White Cat and a well-rounded performance by Matthew Curtis, playing the aged actor, Gus, with Heather Siemienas as Jellylorum singing “Gus: The Theatre Cat”. Brian Cephart also shines as Mr. Mistoffelees, especially in his intricate dance solo to “Magical Mr. Mistoffelees”. The rousing rendition of “Memory” by de Flumen is also bound to bring the audience to its feet.

The Flat Rock production of CATS is the first time a musical of this scale has been mounted in the Downtown theatre. In spite of the venue’s intimate space, director, Lisa K. Bryant, endeavors to maintain Lloyd Webber’s trademark extravaganza-like entertainment. This choice is often but not always successful.

Although the make-up is toned down to compensate for the close proximity of the audience, the costuming (Ashli Arnold), particularly for the bugs, is not as effective. The pulsating musical score, directed by Eric Fotre Leach, made it hard to hear the lyrics in the first act and the impressively performed acrobatic choreography (Jennifer Jancuska) is, at times, a bit over the top for such close quarters.

All in all, it is still wonderful entertainment with the talented performers, singing and dancing their hearts out.

 

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