Thursday, April 14, 2005

The "Cats" cast puts on an energetic performance on opening night. The show runs through Sunday.

‘Cats’ returns to isles
in fine feline form

"Cats" is to musical theater what "Nutcracker" is to ballet when it comes to introducing children to the wondrous world of live performance. There are no dark and complicated story lines, but neither is everything dumbed down and sanitized as is so often the case in contemporary "children's theater." Any violence depicted is stylized and bloodless. The few sexual undercurrents are delivered with a protective layer of G-rated physical comedy.


Repeats at Blaisdell Concert Hall 7:30 p.m. today, 8 p.m. tomorrow, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $35 to $65 today and 7 p.m. Sunday, and $45 to $75 for other performances. Call 591-2211 (Blaisdell) or Ticketmaster at 877-750-4400, or go online at www.ticketmaster.com.

And, again, unlike much of what passes for "children's entertainment" these days, the richness of T.S. Eliot's poetry challenges kids to explore the wonders of the English language even as the music and choreography is entertaining them with a colorful assortment of mythical Jellicle Cats.

If there is a deeper message to be found, it is that cats are wonderful and remarkable animals, and that the elderly and infirm among us -- represented by Old Deuteronomy, Asparagus and Grizabella -- should be treated with courtesy and respect.

The show is visiting Honolulu for the fourth time. It is once again an engaging and thoroughly entertaining experience for children and adults -- at least for adults who enjoy it for what it is and are willing to overlook the absence of a conventional plot. Which cat is going to be sent to the Heavyside Layer for rebirth? We won't spoil the surprise for anybody who doesn't already know.

Most "Cats" fans will find their favorite characters back in top shape:

» Justin P. Wingenroth gives a show-stopping performance as the magical Mr. Mistoffelees. Some of the "magic" didn't seem as spectacular as in previous shows, but the diminutive Wingenroth's expressive interpretation of the character and his physical execution of the demanding choreography earned him enthusiastic applause. Some of the other dance numbers seemed to go on longer than they needed to on opening night, but Wingenroth left the crowd wanting more when he closed his stellar performance by leaping into the arms of Jason Simon (Old Deuteronomy).

» Steven C. Rich (Growltiger) and Kym Chambers (Griddlebone) mesh wonderfully as an engaging comic couple in "Growltiger's Last Stand." Rich also distinguishes himself playing the rotund Bustopher Jones, and in the more poignant role of an aged theater cat named Asparagus, who recalls his days of glory to sympathetic Jellylorum (also played beautifully by Chambers).

» Gregory Haney (Mungojerrie) and Lisa Schale (Rumpleteazer) are energetic and instantly appealing as the mischievous and energetic cat burglars. Schale's shrill but sweet voice adds an engaging edge to the number, and the couple's acrobatic finale is one of the show-stopping wonders of Act 1. Could we see that again, please?

» Adam Ryan Tackett (Skimbleshanks) brings a welcome bit of lighthearted cheer to Act 2 as the loose-limbed railroad cat.

» Christine LaDuca (Bombalurina) and Amy Phillips (Demeter) add a hot bluesy ambience to the show when they warn of the evil Macavity.

» Natalie Attino (Grizabella) makes "Memory" the poignant pivotal musical statement it must be if "Cats" is to be more than colorful costumes and choreography. Jamie Markovich (Sillabub) handles her share of the song beautifully, as well.

» John Boy (Rum Tug Tugger, the Tugger for short) lacked sufficient cat testosterone to make his big number the bombastic celebration of unbridled tomcat sexuality it should be, but he was a major presence thereafter. The Tugger could be observed refusing to fall in line with the others in several scenes, got a big laugh when he went into the audience to interact with a human female, and did a fine job speaking for Mr. Mistoffelees. The Tugger continues to entertain after the curtain calls, so don't leave the hall before he takes his final tumble.

» Jason Simon is a commanding presence as benevolent Old Deuteronomy but also has the vocal strength necessary to make "The Moments of Happiness" a powerful intro to Act 2.

There is much to enjoy in the ensemble numbers, as well. The epic battle between Growltiger and the Siamese cat pirates, the chorus line of tap-dancing cockroaches and the rapid assembly of a locomotive from junkyard detritus are bright moments. The big cat fight starring Ben Becton (Munkustrap), James Ginnever (Macavity) and Adam Perry (Alonzo) is darker but impressive, as well.

Anat Sarah Pelleg (Victoria) adds silent beauty to the show with her graceful scene-stealing performance in several of the ensemble numbers.

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