By Lynn Geyer
As a child, Andrew Lloyd Webber was inspired by T. S. Eliot’s collection of poems Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.
As an adult, Webber, London’s renowned West End composer/producer, put that inspiration to work with the help of lyricist Trevor Nunn and delivered a litter of “Cats” to the world.
Tacoma Musical Playhouse director/choreographer Jon Douglas Rake fills the proscenium stage to the max with the huge cast of felines. However, though seemingly crowded, each actor has his own space – it’s truly amazing how they never appear to encroach on one another. The timing is perfection.
The cast sings to the musical direction Jeffrey Stvrtecky produces with his 10-piece orchestra and dances around the wonderful set by Technical Director Will Abrahamse in costumes by Janet English as though they have been doing it all their nine lives.
This imaginative tale transports the assembled to a cat-filled junk yard for a magical evening of feline fervor at the Jellicle Ball where their beloved leader, Old Deuteronomy, will choose a well-worn cat to be reborn into a new life.
The audience is introduced to the enchanting 28 members of the kitty clan through memorable songs and mesmerizing dances.
This truly ensemble cast is so purrrfect, it is difficult to point fingers at the best of the brood without risking slighting others equally talented. There are an additional dozen not mentioned in this review solely due to space limitations.
John Kelleher is venerable as Old Deuteronomy. Victoria, the White Cat, is gracefully danced by Ivy Rice. Munkustrap, the evening’s narrator, of sorts, is handsomely played by Mauro Bozzo. Jennyanydots is an Old Gumbie Cat, comically played by Kathy Kluska.
Chris Serface is a deservingly pompous Bustopher Jones, Heather Malroy is Bombalurina, Marissa Ryder doubles as Jellylorum and Griddlebone, Nash Rhaburn is the elusive Macavity, Kim Lavoie sings Demeter and Joey Schultz is Skimbleshanks, the Railway Cat. Each is equally good in their roles and maintaining the cat persona.
Karen Christensen is the plaintive Grizabella. She sings the keynote song “Memory” beautifully with compassion for things lost but not forgotten.
Jeremy Adams and Cherisse Martinelli are, respectively, Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer, the hi-jinx-filled twin cats. The two dance their parts as one with fluidity and flourish.
Ryan Posey is Mr. Mistoffelees, the Magical Cat. Posey shows some truly magical dancing in the role with the most complex and difficult chorography. He bounds toward the ceiling with legs outstretched to either side as though he were on a trampoline instead of the stage floor – not once, but many times in a row.
Steve Barnett is outstanding in voice and demeanor as Rum Tum Tugger, the biggest Tom cat that defies anyone to “do anything about it.”
Micheal O’Hara is remarkable as Gus, the Theatre Cat. Gus was once a famous actor but now is stricken with palsy and has only his memories of days gone by. O’Hara evokes empathy from all. His paws shake with the malady and he limps across the stage – until – he tells of his role as Growltiger, a pirate. Once in the swashbuckling persona, O’Hara cavorts about the stage as the Terror of the Thames until the story is finished and he reverts to the aging thespian.
This is truly a show for all ages – a delight to both eye and ear.
“Cats” continues at Tacoma Musical Playhouse at 7116 Sixth Avenue just east of Jackson through July 31, Friday and Saturday evening at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.
For reservations or more information, call the box office at (253) 565-6867 or go online to www.tmp.org.
The London production of “Cats” ran for twenty-one years and the Broadway production for eighteen. TMP’s production is only for nine more performances. Don’t miss it or you’ll be crying over spilt milk – it’s the cat’s meow