The Music Circus is closing its 2009 season with Andrew Lloyd Webber's 'Cats,' the show that opened the company's then-brand-new Wells Fargo Pavilion in 2003.
'Cats' isn't my favorite Lloyd Webber show, by a long shot. And, based on comments I heard during intermission - 'I'm just not getting this one!' - and the number of people who didn't return for Act 2, I'm not alone.
But the task at hand is not to review a show that has been around for a couple of decades, but this particular Music Circus production.
'Cats' was inspired by 'Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats,' T.S. Eliot's 1939 collection of children's poems. The play's plot is thin, and used primarily as a vehicle for introducing new cats and new musical numbers. That said, the music is engaging, and the cats are delightful.
The one problem with doing 'Cats' in the round is that a big part of the show's charm - at other venues - is its massive set, which depicts the back alley location of the piece. On a proscenium stage, one can have heaps of garbage and things attached to the walls; at some theaters, audience members are allowed to walk around on stage to examine the scenery.
Music Circus scenic designer Michael Schweikardt does a good job of suggesting a back alley, with a few props lining the edge of the stage, but compromises were necessary to keep the sight lines.
When we lose the impact of the scenery, 'all' that remains is the singing and dancing. Thankfully, this cast makes any yearning for a more massive set transitory. Director/choreography Richard Stafford has assembled an exciting and impressive cast, headed by Ken Page as Old Deuteronomy.
Page created the role on Broadway and reprised it 18 years later in the 2003 production. Much like his character, Page obviously has many lives.
Jacquelyn Piro Donovan is notable as Grizabella, the moth-eaten former glamour cat, who hopes to be chosen for rebirth in the 'Heaviside Layer.' Donovan also played this role in the 2003 Music Circus production. Her delivery of 'Memory' is hauntingly beautiful, and it drew cheers and sustained applause from the audience.
Kevin Lorque (Rum Tum Tugger), Ryan Jackson (Mistoffelees) and Michael Brian Dunnas (Bustopher Jones/Asparagus/Growltiger) also give first-rate performances.
Kurt Domoney's crisp interpretation of Skimbleshanks, the cat on the railway train, is a delight.
Stafford's choreography is perfect, particularly in numbers such as 'The Jellical Ball.' (This production also gives patrons the opportunity to see a chorus of tap-dancing cockroaches!)
The vocals also afford some beautiful moments, such as the chorus for 'Old Deuteronomy.'
Costumes are a huge part of this show's success, and Marcy Froehlich's efforts are outstanding. The solution for the 'larger' cats is ingenious, and Froehlich's costumes for a band of Siamese pirates are quite colorful.
(The cats are so realistic that I felt it necessary to come home and apologize to my dogs, for fraternizing with the opposite species.)
Act 2 is more enjoyable than Act 1, as it gives up all pretense of any plot whatsoever, and simply presents several stand-alone numbers, each introducing a different cat.
All things considered, 'Cats' is a good end to a good season.