Review: CATS

by Lynn on June 12, 2013

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Panasonic Theatre until September 1, 2013. Based on “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” by T.S. Eliot. Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Directed by Dave Campbell. Choreography by Gino Berti.  Set by Tim Webb. Costumes by Lisa Magill. Lighting by Bradley A. Trenaman. Sound by  Peter McBoyle. Starring Charles Azulay, Ma-Anne Dionisio, Cory O’Brien, Devon Tullock.

Has it really been 28 years since producer Marlene Smith produced the first Canadian production of Cats? Time flies.

Cats is based on a sweet, slim book of poems written by T.S.Eliot in the 1930s, entitled “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats”. “Old Possum” was T.S. Eliot’s assumed name. He included the poems in letters to his godchildren. Years later they were collected into book form. Then Andrew Lloyd Webber put his overbearing musical stamp on it. Cats The Musical opened in the West End in London in 1981 and then on Broadway. Cats is the second longest running musical in Broadway history, behind The Phantom of the Opera, also by Mr. Webber.

It’s a special night for the Jellicle cats of the local junk-yard. A cat will be picked who is thought to be special enough to come back with a new life. Old Deuteronomy, a revered old cat, will make the decision. Various cats have their time in the spotlight. There is Gus the theatre cat reminiscing of his past glories; Bustopher Jones in his fancy spats; Grizabella, the Glamour Cat is the most loathed cat in the yard. She was once elegant, now tattered, hunched, and halting as she walks. Her glory days are behind her.

This could be the way to describe the present production of Cats.  Kudos of course to Marlene Smith and her company to mount an all Canadian production, but does it have to look so tattered and downscale; so (forgive me) community theatre while charging a hefty amount for tickets? ($40-$100. $40 should be the top price for this effort and that’s stretching it.)

The Panasonic Theatre is a perfectly reasonable theatre for many productions but not this one. The stage is too small. Much of the stage is taken up with Tim Webb’s junk-yard set leaving precious little room for the performers to dance. When they do dance to Gino Berti’s pedestrian choreography it often seems more like synchronized arm waving and yoga poses with the occasional leap. Characters do scramble over the set pieces at the back but there is that sense that the actual set is underused. And since these are cats the junk, stuff should be much larger to give the sense of size. It started off well with a huge red high-top sneaker dropping from the flies, but it did not continue with that wit with the actual set.

Dave Campbell’s direction is little more than guiding characters on and off the stage, often via the audience making it difficult for those in the balcony to see it. The pace is slow and that’s deadly for any show. In too many cases characters and their costumes and wigs are not distinct enough, making several cats seem alike. The cast is a mix of experienced professionals, recent graduates making their professional debut, and those in between. The dancing is energetic. The singing in some cases is spotty. Surely there must be someone in the creative team to give the proper pronunciation Tottenham. Every syllable is not pronounced. It’s “Tottnum.”  As Grizabella, Ma-Anne Dionisio sings “Memory” with heart and heartache. But the young woman who echoes Grizabella as a younger incarnation is completely out of her depth when singing it. As Old Deuteronomy, Charles Azulay has a robust voice and knows how to bring out the most in the lyrics. I was grateful to these strong individual singers, but not grateful for an orchestra that sounded tinny, as if it was all done on a synthesizer.

This production of Cats attracted an audience of young people who are obviously seeing it for the first time. Fine. Perhaps they will be hooked to see something better next time. For those looking to revive your memory of Cats from 28 years ago, better pass.

Cats runs at the Panasonic Theatre until September 1.

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1 Mitch August 6, 2013 at 2:32 pm

I enjoyed the show for what it was. However, for $80, I expected something more. The production looked cheap and small, and (I agree) community theatre-ish. But the cast was very talented and did all they could with what they’re given. I think they deserved more for a musical of this calibre. And it’s sad if this is all we could muster as a Canadian production – we definitely have the talent.