ARMY COMMUNITY THEATRE
Army Community Theatre's production of "Cats" often falls short of audiences' high expectations.
"Cats!" delivers a mixed bag
The Hawaiian Humane Society warns us that if cats go unspayed we'll be inundated with unwanted felines. Army Community Theatre's ambitious production of "Cats" proves the point as director Vanita Rae Smith expands the standard cast with cats and kittens that add nothing but extra bodies.
Presented by Army Community Theatre
Time: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, through March 11
Place: Richardson Theatre, Fort Shafter
Tickets: $20 and $28; $15 and $22 for children
Call: 438-4480, or visit squareone.org/ACT
Smith's use of nine singers off-stage to reinforce the performers' voices is an acceptable way of ensuring that T.S. Eliot's glorious poetry is clearly heard no matter the demands of Grace Bell Humerickhouse's choreography. Adding to the cat population is a bad idea. Andrew Lloyd Webber knew what he was doing when he assembled the show from Eliot's poems and should not be second-guessed.
A bigger problem is that Hawaii has seen "Cats" done by four professional touring productions -- the latest less than a year ago -- so expectations are high. The gap that can exist between a cast of full-time paid professionals and a cast of enthusiasts who must simultaneously work full-time day jobs has rarely been more evident.
The awkwardness of individual male cats struggling to lift their partners, the hesitancy in some of the ensemble numbers, and costumes that lack the lushness seen just last April in the Blaisdell Concert Hall, are likely to disappoint seasoned "Cats" fans. The cats' manes appear both shorter and stiffer than usual -- Rum Tum Tugger being particularly short-changed.
On the other hand, Dennis Hassan's elaborate junk yard set, David Peterson's somber lighting and excellent work by musical director Lorna Mount and her musicians enhance several exceptional performances.
Arthur "AJ" Johansen (Mungojerrie) and Lynn Kinoshita (Rumpleteazer) give Broadway- worthy performances as mischievous cat burglars. Their zesty acrobatic number is the visual highlight of Act I.
Elizabeth Ananij Harrison (Bombularina) stands out in several numbers, Philip Amer Kelley (Skimbleshanks) does a delightful job as the fast-moving railroad cat.
Shawna Masuda (Jemima/Jellylorum) and Ashley Leyfield (Cassandra) also establish themselves as cats to watch.
Don Richards (Alonzo), Shayne Taylor (Macavity) and Tony Young (Munkustrap) get good support from Harrison and Cameron Krainen (Demeter) in the big "cat fight" that adds drama and darkness to Act II. Young has less time in the spotlight than "Cats" fans will anticipate because ACT isn't doing "The Awefull Battle of the Pekes and the Pollicles."
The minimalist plot introduces a group of "Jellicle Cats" for whom the moonlit Jellicle Ball includes the selection of a cat to be sent skyward to the Heavyside Layer for rebirth.
Joshua Tucker presides with adequate gravity as the cats' leader, Old Deuteronomy, and takes the lead in conveying Eliot's message that cats are wonderful animals, and the elderly and infirm -- Gus the Theatre Cat, Old Deuteronomy and Grizabella, the bedraggled "glamour cat" -- should be treated with kindness and respect. Tucker makes "Moments of Happiness" and "The Ad-Dressing of Cats" dramatic bookends in Act II.
Sarah B. Markovits (Grizabella) sings "Memory," the biggest song in the show, with appropriate poignancy while shading her performance with a fragile reserve. Masuda does so well with the opening verses of "Memory" when it's reprised in Act II that it's surprising she isn't playing Grizabella.
Other performers fare less well. Lowen K.D. Patigayon (Mistoffelees) has the moves but not the magical effects to make his number the show-stopper it should be. Jimi V. Wheeler (Rum Tum Tugger) doesn't get the support he needs to make "The Rum Tum Tugger" the celebration of tom cat testosterone it should be -- maybe the Humane Society got to Tugger on his way to the ball.