Thursday, January 26, 2012

CATS Play Purrfectly at Segerstrom

Cats were prowling the theater at Segerstrom Center for the Arts.  A series of vignettes based on a book of poems by T.S. Elliot: Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, this show is equal parts kitty opera and prance off.  The fantastical, world of Jellicle cats are gathered together for their yearly Jellicle Ball and take turns performing in hopes of being chosen by the benevolent leader, Old Deuteronomy, to ascend to the Heavyside Layer and come back to a new life.

The original Broadway choreography stands the test of time and I loved recognizing the opening number Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats’ choreography which I learned during college years of musical theater dance classes. The opening number is a CATS standard for the theater geek and I got goosebumps – a fine foreshadowing of the feline fun to come.

Directed and choreographed by Richard Stafford, who based his presentation on the original direction of Trevor Nunn and choreography of Gillian Lynne, CATS still holds the audience captive, even if my son’s eyelids did start to droop halfway through Act II, which can be attributed more to late night homework sessions rather than any loss of interest in the prowling and prancing on stage.

Alex had two favorite numbers that he’s been talking about all week. The acrobatic duet Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer, performed by Mario Martinez and Katy Burns, is probably the most physically taxing numbers to dance and sing simultaneously, and is a definite crowd pleaser. Alex’s other fave number was the well known Magical Mr. Mystoffolees, surely the most intricate and challenging dance solos in the show (sung by Chris Stevens as Rum Tum Tuggger and flawlessly danced by Chaz Wolcott as Mr. Mystoffolees).

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s famous cat ballad, Memory, is Grizabella the Glamour Cat’s soliloquy remembering her youthful days in the sun. I found this tour’s interpretation of Grizabella to be odd, but the opening night audience loved Melissa Grohowski’s performance. The tattered cat is old and weary, but Grohowski’s Grizabella had a overly pronounced limp and one heck of a repetitive twitch. The makeup design gave her the look of (dare I say it?) road kill complete with drooping bloody lip. The glamour cat’s makeup should’ve read as withered glamour and sadness, but as Grizabella made her limping, twitching entrance, Alex leaned over and whispered to me, “Is that a zombie cat?” Grizabella the Zombie Cat?  Not quite Webber and Nunn’s vision, I’m sure, but it gave us the giggles. I mean, what nine year old boy doesn’t love a good zombie cat?

Christopher E. Sidoli was perfect as the old, palsy-plagued Asparagus (“Gus”) and the larger-than-life Tigergrowl. He skillfully mastered the acting transition from worn-out theatre has been — complete with aged voice and shaking paw -– to the younger version of “Gus” playing Tigergrowl on stage. His singing voice was strong and rich, and he was absolutely playful and charming in the role.

My personal favorite performance of the night was given by OC native, Madison Mitchell as Demeter.  Demeter and Bombalurina (Ashley Chasteen) perform a slow and sultry duet in Macavity: The Mystery Cat.  Mitchell’s feline grace paired with a velvety mezzo soprano made for a mesmerizing performance. Think silky fur, slow cat walk and quick reflexes: the quintessential feline.
This national touring company congers a fantastical music and dance experience for the whole family. Meow.

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