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Cats a frisky musical with nine lives

By: Anna Borowiecki

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Dec 25, 2013 06:00 am

LIMBER LADY – Lindsay Marsh as Victoria, The White Cat, signals the beginning of the Jellicle Ball during her dance to the song Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats.
LIMBER LADY – Lindsay Marsh as Victoria, The White Cat, signals the beginning of the Jellicle Ball during her dance to the song Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats.
Supplied photo

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Festival Players
Runs until Monday, Dec. 30
Festival Place
100 Festival Way
Sherwood Park

The musical Cats is one of those Andrew Lloyd Webber productions that you either love or hate.

The Festival Players’ two-hour plus production lacks a dramatic arc that you can follow from point A to Z. It’s more of a fanciful suite of songs and dances than a traditional musical story – there is no spoken dialogue and scarcely a plot.

Instead it is structured more like Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker with a series of songs and dances that introduce each of the main characters and their midnight revels.

What prevents the production (now running at Festival Place until Dec. 30) from devolving into a monotonous pastiche is Lloyd Webber’s score. It features assorted glowing jazz and rock anthems, bouncy British music-hall ditties, clever parodies, syncopated marches and the forever-classic Memory.

Couple that with director Shelley Tookey’s stunning choreography, a nimble, talented young cast, a robust orchestra, and the result is living, breathing art.

In this simple scenario, it’s the night of the Jellicle Ball when felines of every stripe gather in an old deserted junkyard to select who goes up to Heavyside Layer for a rebirth.

One by one the felines slink onto the stage and cavort under a big blue moon. As they wait for Old Deuteronomy (Gary Carter), the patriarch, to make his choice, the skittish kitties take turns in the spotlight.

In crisp dance routines, the athletic, limber cats shake their tails, roll on the ground, leap, twist, pirouette and flip each other in the air. It is constant motion as they tell their tall tales of cat burglars, chop houses, train journeys and tap dancing cockroaches.

There is an impressively high level of performances, starting with Geoff Ryyzuk’s Munkustrap, who obliges as the musical’s narrator and displays an easy confidence as the leading man.

Justin Kautz is a delight as the sexy, prancing, rock n’ roll Rum Tum Tigger while Kieran MacDonald sports a devilish smile and some incredible spinning skills as the magical Mr. Mistoffelees.

The tiger-striped Josh Languedoc as Mungojerrie and Christine Maydew as Rumpleteazer are a cute team of mischievous burglars while Maria Kolasis Harrigan as the silver-striped Demeter is a triple-threat regal, but feisty queen.

Finally it’s down to Elizabeth Marsh as the old and tattered glamour puss Grizabella who returns to the colony only to be shunned by all. Yet when she sings the torch song Memory, her lush mezzo-soprano vocals become increasingly powerful and poignant as she pleads for kindness. Marsh definitely creates a goosebump moment.

Last but certainly not least is the incredible 19-piece live orchestra that delivers a score with considerable resonance. Each song – from the full-cast dazzling showstopper Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats to the gentler, more sublime, shimmering Moments of Happiness – reveals a polished, mature blend of keys, reeds, brass, strings and percussion. The musicians’ sophistication clearly puts the production over the top.

Back in the 1980s Cats ruled Broadway. This Christmas week it rules Festival Place.


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