Cats

Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Based on “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot
Directed by Dave Campbell
Choreographed by Gino Berti
Drayton Entertainment Production
Huron Country Playhouse, Grand Bend
May 30 to June 23, 2007
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

Broadway’s Best Comes to Grand Bend

I live on a quiet cul-de-sac, which is also home to many neighbourhood cats. Our elderly family dog will not permit us to have a cat, or we’d have one too. I enjoy watching these cats – they have leaders and followers, some have a morning routine where they go mousing along the creek bank, others drop by to sun on our deck. As outsiders, we just have small glimpses into their cat society.

T.S. Eliot found a way into cat life. You may remember Eliot from high school English class: he wrote the poem The Wasteland and the novel Murder in the Cathedral, which are favourites of English teachers. The American-born author spent his life in England where he produced many great works. But today, his most famous book of poetry is Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats – something he tossed off in 1939, just for fun, to amuse children. When Andrew Lloyd Webber turned Eliot’s poems into songs and created the show Cats, he altered Eliot’s legacy.

Cats first appeared on stage in London’s West End in the early eighties, and then ran on Broadway for 18 years. After a very successful run in St. Jacobs last summer, Drayton Entertainment has brought Cats to Grand Bend’s Huron Country Playhouse. It’s a magical show, with amazing dance and a wonderful score, where cats are personified in a delightful way.

Eliot simply tracked the lives of the neighbourhood cats who prowled freely in those days, and turned them into tiny little people with stories. There’s Jenny Anydots who catches beetles in the basement, lines them up with her paws, and makes them dance – so Andrew Lloyd Webber gives us tap-dancing beetles with Jenny Anydots (played so well by Christina Gordon) giving the orders.

Then we have Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer who are mischievous house cats. They romp around breaking Ming vases in the dining room, and stealing “Woolworth” pearls from the lady of the house. On stage we see a wonderful couple of acrobatic dancers (Micheal Donald and Neesa Kenemy) tumbling about with great enthusiasm and playing like a pair of kittens.

Rum Tum Tugger must have been the neighbourhood Tom cat who had all the female kittens following him. He’s always on the wrong side of every door – as most pet owners know, when they’re outside they want in, and vice-versa. Andrew Lloyd Webber took the liberty of turning Rum Tum Tugger into an Elvis-like cat. Mike Jackson is reprising the role from St. Jacobs and obviously has great fun with his Elvis hips.

Then there’s Gus, the aging cat who hung around the theatre. We go back in time with Gus to see him play a pirate on stage. Troy Adams and Christina Gordon show comedic talent in this audience-pleaser.

Skimbleshanks (Vince Staltari) prowls around the railway station, pretending to be the station-master. The cats build a remarkable train engine out of garbage to a very catchy tune. Mike Faigaux shows solid dancing ability as Mr. Mistoffelees — the magician cat who pulls seven kittens right out of a hat.

Of course, there has to be a cat bully – Macavity. Mike Tracz plays a very scary tough-guy, showing up after much foreshadowing.

Janet Martin plays Grizabella, the former glamour cat, as she did in St. Jacobs. She sings the show-stopping number Memory with great passion. Her performance alone is worth the ticket price. Equally as good is Lee Siegel as Old Deuteronomy with a beautiful clear tenor voice.

Director Dave Campbell, Choreographer Gino Berti, and Music Director Lona Davis have done well in bringing this big Broadway success to Grand Bend. It’s fascinating how cats prowling around a garbage dump can become spectacular. Kudos to set designer Tim Webb for his clever giant cast-offs.

While there were a few glitches at Friday’s preview performance, I’m sure they’ll be ironed out – a little trouble with mics and the sound system, a couple of missteps in the choreography, and a dropped lyric – nothing that can’t be easily fixed. The enthusiasm of the cast is evident and it promises to be a wonderful show – if you have any interest in the lives of cats, who also happen to be very good singers and dancers.

Cats continues with eight shows a week until June 23rd at Huron Country Playhouse, Grand Bend. Tickets are available at the Huron Country Playhouse box office at (519) 238-6000 or Drayton Entertainment at 1-888-449-4463.

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