The new production of Cats at the La Mirada Theatre of the Performing Arts has been helmed by Dana Solimando, (a former member of the Broadway production). Based on T.S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, composer Andrew Lloyd Webber overlays his brand of musical pastiche to Eliot's poems. The story revolves around a posse of felines introducing one another to the audience while at a ball celebrating which of these cats their spiritual leader cat, Old Deuteronomy, will choose to ascend to the next realm.
Much of the play's drama rests on the faded former glamour cat Grizabella. She should evoke tenderness with the audience, sensing her isolation and castigation from the other cats. Kelli Provart portrays little of Grizabella's pain, and therefore her role, and her hit song "Memory," has less resonance. It feels like the cats only finally warm up to her when she hits a fabulous high note toward the end of "Memory" (even the orchestra pauses to allow the audience to drink it in).
Of the more prominent roles, Todrick Hall stands out as Rum Tum Tugger. He does not slip into camp as others are wont to do and is fully believable as the rock-star cat. The Gumbie Trio during the "Old Gumbie Cat" number, performed by Whitehead, Nina Schreckengost, and Madison Mitchell, do a spot-on impression of the Andrews Sisters. In the same number, Colette Peters as Jennyanydots leads the cast in a rousing tap number. Neil Dale brings both pathos and humor to the adventures of Gus, The Theatre Cat. Several of the dancers are blessed with acrobatic skills, and Solimando puts them to great use with flair.
Mistoffelees is supposed to be the quintessential ballet dancer, but Dane Wagner's lack of classical training damages his number. His deficiency of technical finesse forces choreographer Solimando to substitute other characters to jump in performing a series of acrobatic sequences across the stage, when magical Mistoffelees should to be wowing the audience with his dance prowess. His dancing does not match all the wonder the song proclaimed about him.
The same can be said for Melvin Ramsey as Macavity. His battle with Munkustrap (played by Karl Warden) contains zero tension or ferocity and his face remains expressionless throughout.
However, the ensemble cast has fantastic energy. Several of the actors embody the feline traits necessary for audiences to forget that those are indeed actors in costumes. Lauren Decierdo as Cassandra, Chryssie Whitehead as Bombalurina, and Daniel Dawson as Skimbleshanks are particularly adept at being catlike, isolating their hips, ribs, and shoulders, moving their bodies with agile felinity. Even their eyes portray feline concentration.
Solimando does an excellent job of faithfully reproducing the original Broadway choreography, despite having space limitations of a stage far smaller than the Winter Garden, where the musical played in New York for over 7,000 performances. Though the original choreography is a boon to this production, the dancers do not have enough room to fully elongate lines as required or to travel in group patterns, apparent most during the Jellicle Ball "break-out." The confinement of space also contributes to the choreography having less contrasting levels and variances, which, in a heavy dance show like Cats, these choreographic nuances are essential.
Musical director John Glaudini does a solid job keeping the slower numbers energized. He does excessively push the "Jellicle Ball" tempo from the buildup to a level where the dancers could not possibly execute the moves as choreographed.
While many regional productions of Cats skimp on costumes, makeup, and wigs, here the cast members take extra care in applying their makeup to resemble Candace Carell's original majestic designs. The production rented top-quality costumes to give the production Broadway professionalism. Jean-Yves Tessier's lighting design is very stylish and transports audiences back to the discotheque era of the early '80s.
Cats has always been a divisive musical, one that people either worship or scorn. Whatever one's preconceived notions of the text, La Mirada has executed an enjoyable rendition.
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