Today’s Installment: “Your ‘Memory’ Is False” or “A Cat House of Good Repute”

This afternoon we went to the the last production in the Cabrillo Music Theatre 2008-2009 season, “Cats”. Now, before you start harping on Andrew Lloyd Webber or Cats, let me remind you that your bias is likely based on all the ALW parodies you have seen of either “Cats”, “Phantom”, “Evita”, or “Jesus Christ Superstar”. Those are parodies — not the original productions, and in many cases there are reasons those productions were successful. I should also note that I have seen “Cats” before — many years ago when the original production played the no-longer-existant Shubert Theatre in Century City.

Anyway, back to today’s show… Today we saw “Cats”, but don’t go thinking of “Cats” as a musical. “Cats” is a collection of modern dances set to musicalized poems by T. S. Eliot (“Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats”) [with a few additional lyrics by Sir Trevor Nunn, Richard Stilgoe, and music by Sir Andrew Lloyd-Webber], which have been arranged to provide a very weak thread of connection about selecting a cat to ascend to heaven. This thread is as weak as the connection between songs in musical revues such as “Ain’t Misbehavin’” or “Smokey Joes Cafe”, so if you come looking for plot, as Bob Fosse said at the introduction of his musical “Dancin’” (paraphrased from memory): “Don’t go looking for the plot; this is about the dancing”. If you go into “Cats” viewing it as a dance production set to pleasant music, you’ll be quite happy.

Cabrillo’s production was about the dance. The director/choreographer Dana Solimando, assisted by Billy Johnstone, assembled a remarkable clowder of actors (“clowder” is the group noun for cats) who were strong singers and dancers, and their performances made the show. They were delightful to watch, especially when you would take time to watch the ones in the background, who would have very catlike movements. By the way, it is difficult to tell the cats apart, even with a program. The wiki-page helps. I’ll also note, with respect to the dancing, that one gets a very different perspective depending on where you sit. We sit in the top balcony with binoculars, and thus our focus is much more on the overall image of the ensemble dance, with occasional focus on faces — a very different view than one in the orchestra. Perhaps this is why folks attend multiple times: so you can watch different cat characters from different positions.

As I noted, Cabrillo’s production had remarkably strong dancers, and with one exception, remarkably strong singers. Let me single out a few of our favorites before enumerating the rest of the clowder (boy, I like that word). My personal favorite was Catherine Ricafort as Rumpleteazer, the female half of Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer. She was a delight to watch in her dance and cat movements, and a strong singer with a really expressive face. Now, add to that the fact she is an Industrial and Systems Engineering grad from USC (minor in Musical Theatre), and, well, color me impressed. All the family was impressed with Jo Patrickæ as Mr. Mistoffelees (“The Conjuring Cat”): he was an incredible dancer, doing continual piroettes with leg extensions without travelling. Other notable dancers/singers were Angela Jean as Victoria (the all-white cat who begins the Jellical Ball with her solo dance; Michael Hunter as Rum Tum Tugger, Daniel Smith as Munkustrap (the second-in-command to Old Deuteronomy). In terms of operatic voices, Will Northæ was wonderful as Growltiger in the opera, in addition to his performance as Gus (the Theatre cat) and Bustopher Jones. Jimmer Bolden was a strong Old Deuteronomy (which is more of a singing than dancing role), and Melissa Lyonsæ (the singing voice of Barbie) was remarkable as Grizabella, who gets the hit number “Memory”. About the only weakness was the other singer of that song, Bety Le as Sillabub: her dancing was good, but her voice was a bit too light for the song.

The remainder of the clowder were all great dancers and singers, as well as capturing the cat personas, but they didn’t quite stand out as much. These included Jessica Bernard (Jellylorum/Griddlebone), Ashley Cowl (Demeter), Jamie Joseph (Alonzo), Jupinko (Cassandra), Patrick Loyd (Bill Bailey), Andrew Pearson (Pouncival), Bebby Perino (Plato/Macavity), Colette Peters (Jennyanydots), Anna Schnaitter (Bombalurina), Matthew Dean Stewart (Skimbleshanks), Kelly Tatro (Coricopat), Andrea Taylor (Tantomile), and Estevan Valdes (Mungojerrie/Genghis). Not on stage, but singing in the pit were Chris Dane, Erin Fagundes, John Gaston, Mona King, James W. Lynch, Daniel Rosales, Jessica Stoll, and Katie Young.
[æ denotes members of æ Actors Equity ]

Normally with “Cats” one thing that hits you when you walk into the auditorium is the set. I still have memories of walking into the Century City Shubert and seeing this junkyard set surrounding all of the orchestra seats. The set designer (formally uncredited, but the scenery was provided by the Fullerton CLO and designed by Peter Barbieri, Jr.) didn’t quite have that freedom in the Kavli, but did a remarkable job of creating a functional junkyard set in the space available. Even more remarkable was the work of the Jean-Yves Tessier as the lighting designer. Normally, the lighting design is reasonably conventional, with overuse of spots. But this time Tessier did a remarkable jobs, combining LED lighting in the junk, lights on the stage itself, moving lights with gobos, moving spots on stage… and when the conventional spots were used they were more tightly focused than usual and had softer edges. This lighting design truly contributed to the excellent quality of this production. The sound, by Cabrillo regular Jonathan Burke, was good and clear (there was only one pop) all the way up in the balcony. The costumes (wardrobe design by Christine Gibson, costumes from Stage West Costumes based on the London and Broadway versions) were suitably catlike, and the makeup by Rachel Samuels with wigs by Jacqueline Ruge was excellent. The production manager/prop designer was T. Theresa Scarano, and Darrell J. Clark was technical director. The ever capable and ever delightful Lindsay Martens (youarebonfante) was the Production Stage Manager (and we thank her for visiting with us after the show), assisted by Allie Roy and Emilee Wamble.

The orchestra for “Cats” was excellent, and was under the musical direction of Ilana Eden. It consisted of 16 players, and included flute, tenor sax, soprano sax, clarinet, baritone sax, english horn, oboe, trumpets, piccolo trumpets, flugelhorn, trombone, cello, guitars, electric bass, drums, and multiple keyboards. Kudos go to Darryl Tanikawa and Tanikawa Artists for producing such a great orchestra.

The last performance of “Cats” at Cabrillo Music Theatre is Sunday, August 2. Tickets should be available at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza box office or via Ticketmaster. They may be on Goldstar; I haven’t checked.

I should note that Cabrillo did an interesting partnership this production: profits from the sale of merchandise went to a local animal rescue program, and there was an active pet adoption program going on before the show.

At the performance, Lewis Wilkenfeld, artistic director of Cabrillo, announced the 2009-2010 season of productions (which are all locally produced productions, not tours): “Guys and Dolls”, “The Andrews Brothers”, “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”, and “Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella” (and an option for the Christmas show, “White Christmas”). I should note that their prices are very good, including two-for-one balcony tickets: $100 for two tickets to four shows on a Saturday night. You can’t beat that.

Upcoming Theatre: We still have one more show this weekend: “Guys and Dolls” in concert at 8:30pm tomorrow night at the Hollywood Bowl. The cast is steller, featuring Jessica Biel (Sarah Brown), Scott Bakula (Nathan Detroit), Beau Bridges (Arvide Abernathy), Ellen Greene (Miss Adelaide), Brian Stokes Mitchell (Sky Masterson), Ken Page (Nicely-Nicely Johnson), Jason Graae (Benny Southstreet), and Danny Stiles (Rusty Charlie). August 8 brings us back to the Pasadena Playhouse for the musical “Crowns”. We go on vacation shortly after that, but while on vacation we’re seeing “Tinyard Hill” at TheatreWorks in Palo Alto on Sun 8/16 @ 7:30 (Goldstar). Sat 8/22 sees us back at the REP for “Beyond Therapy by Christopher Durang. August closes with the Hollywood Bowl on Saturday 8/29, where we are seeing Liza Minnelli. September brings the High Holy Days (Rosh Hashana is the evening of 9/18 and the morning of 9/19; Yom Kippur is the evening of 9/27 and the day of 9/28). The only theatre ticketed so far in September is “The Hound of the Baskervilles” at the REP on 9/25 @ 8pm. Concertwise, September brings Tom Paxton at McCabes on 9/13. October brings “The Night is a Child” at The Pasadena Playhouse on 10/3 @ 8pm and “Guys and Dolls” at Cabrillo Music Theatre on 10/24 @ 8pm, and should also bring “Parade” at the Mark Taper Forum (HotTix go on sale 9/3; the show runs 9/24 through 11/15). As a reminder, I’m also always looking for interesting productions on Goldstar and LA Stage Tix, so if you have a production to recommend, please do so.

Lastly, remember that a recent study showed that it isn’t possessions that are important — it is shared experiences. So go have one of the best shared experiences there is: go support your local live theatre, and help keep all the people who work at the theatre (from the cast to the technical staff) employed.