Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Cats: a bravura end to the Music Circus Series

Photo by Charr Crail

T.S. Eliot ended “The Hollow Men” with these lines: “This is the way the world ends/Not with a bang but a whimper.” But with “Cats,” based on Eliot’s book for children, Music Circus ends its current season of seven shows with a resounding bang.

In contrast with the lugubrious “Hollow Men” and “The Wasteland,” Eliot created “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats,” light-hearted verses for children. Andrew Lloyd Webber, after dissolving his partnership with Tim Rice, became fascinated by the challenge of turning Eliot’s book into a musical, despite its lack of story line.

With help from Director Trevor Nunn, Webber bested the challenge, and “Cats” become a hot ticket in London in 1981 and on Broadway the following year. We can see signs of the challenge faced by Webber and Nunn in the contrast between Act I and Act II.

With direction and choreography by Richard Stafford, the cast, in stunning cat costumes by Marcy Froehlich, devotes the first act to a seemingly plotless collection of dance numbers. We witness the Jellicle Ball, where one cat will be selected for reincarnation after a trip to the Heavenside Layer. But you wouldn’t know any of that without reading the playbill.

After the introduction of the cats’ grand aging leader, Old Deuteronomy (Ken Page), with a quavering vibrato, the highlight and climax of the act is the show’s signature song, “Memory,” delivered by Grizabella (Jacqueline Piro Donovan), an aging female shunned for the profligate ways of her youth.

The second act adds drama and comedy, with numbers reminiscent of Gilbert and Sullivan, plus some exciting scenery by Michael Schweikardt. In “Gus: the Theatre Cat,” with Jellyorum (Heather Mieko) and Asparagus (Michael Brian Dunn), we get a plaintive lament over theater that’s “not what it was.” In “Growltiger’s Last Stand,” Growltiger (Dunn) and Griddlebone (Mieko) enjoy a brief romance until the ship they’re on is overcome by colorful pirates or sailors before it’s torn down on stage.

In “Macavity” we meet the powerful and violent Macavity (Nathan Madden), with his own song as he lashes about among Demeter (Lisa Karlin), Bombalurina (Merrill West) and Munkustrap (Jeffry Denman). In “Mr. Mistoffelees” we get a virtuoso dance performance by Mistoffelees (Ryan Jackson), supported by Rum Tum Tugger (Kevin Lorque).

We also get a reprise of “Memory,” by Sillabub (Shannon Lea Smith) and Grizabella. And after Grizabella is elevated into the Heavyside Layer, the finale is led by Old Deuteronomy, singing “The Ad-dressing of Cats.”

One possibly inevitable frustration that audiences may experience is the difficulty of figuring out who is playing what and sometimes even which cat is which. Other than Old Deuteronomy all the faces on stage are masked, making identification too complicated while scenes are running.

Other than this minor nuisance we come away thoroughly charmed and entertained by this well-deserved climax to a mostly dazzling season of solid musicals with Broadway-level productions.

“Cats” continues through August 30 at Sacramento’s Wells Fargo Pavilion, 1419 H Street. Performances daily through Saturday, August 24, are at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. On August 25 performances will begin one hour earlier (at 7 p.m.) Tuesday through Saturday. Thursday and Saturday matinees are at 1 p.m., and Sunday evening’s show is at 6:30.

Tickets are $41 to $53, on sale at the theater, by phone at (916) 557-1999 or (800) 225-2277, or online at For groups of 12 or more call (916) 557-1198. Tickets are $15 off for children 4-11. Children under 4 will not be admitted. For groups of 12 or more call (916) 557-1198.


Annette, Shining Light Jewelry said...

I went to the Sacramento Music Circus this week to see Cats for the first time. I loved it!

I didn't know the storyline, and instead of researching beforehand, I decided to just go and be surprised.

The thing I love about the Music Circus is you get to sit so close to the stage. I could see each cat in vivid detail and by the end of the show I felt as if I knew each one.

I think I must have been smiling nearly the whole time, and I know I laughed out loud several times. But during the final performance of "Memory" I nearly cried. It was very touching.

As I was leaving the Music Circus I heard lots of approving comments. I even remember wondering aloud how the performers can sing so powerfully and dance so energetically at the same time, while I myself can sometimes barely walk and talk! Season ticket holders in our group said that Cats was their favorite of all the Summer Series.

The perfect ending to the evening would have been to meet the cast so I could tell them how much I enjoyed the performance. Unfortunately that didn't happen, so the next best thing I can do is pass along a good review so that maybe YOU will go see the show next chance you get!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your upbeat comment, and I couldn't agree more. Unfortunately professional actors rarely greet audiences. Incidentally, Jim Carnes also gave "Cats" a smashing review in the Bee. Hope you saw his story.