Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Cats at the Albuquerque Little Theatre

The magic begins the moment you arrive at Albuquerque Little Theatre, where human-sized theatre cats are prowling the grounds, and taking to the stage to present the musical "Cats," playing until March 23. Watch your feet as you enter the lobby and find your seats, they're as prevalent as the smiles on the patrons' faces and they don't seem too terribly camera shy, but only before the show begins. Once you're in your seat, keep an eye out for the aisles, corners, balconies and crevices, as the cats playfully break the fourth wall, interacting with the audience until the show begins (and sometimes after too)!

With music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, the story is based on "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats," a series of poems by T.S. Eliot which follow the stories of many different cats, together known as the Jellicle Cats. We discover the inner workings of their feline society, with Munkustrap acting often as a narrator, played lovingly by Larry Joseph Aguilar. Steering our attention from story to story, beginning with the entire company's hypnotic chant, "The Naming of Cats," the story moves into individuals' tales, such as the delightful Jennyanydots, played with playful vigor by Shirley Roach, despite being a cat that "sits and sits and sits all day." The upbeat tap dancing number shows off co-choreographers Edye Allen and Stephanie Burch's mutual talents, and is one of many dance forms (tap, ballet, jazz, modern, lyrical, even Irish step dance) that flow into and out of the stories throughout the show.

"The Rum Tum Tugger" burst into his scene with sass as the most fickle of felines. As Marcus Robinson's ALT debut, he makes a big impression while bringing a sense of entitled elegance, slinking across the stage with liquid body rolls and sinuous choreography while giving us the essence of the rebel that Rum Tum Tugger is written to be. In the second act, Tugger reappears for another energetic performance for "Magical Mister Mistoffelees." The cats, we discover, follow their leader Old Deuteronomy (Jack Litherland), who has lived many lives and "buried nine wives," and tonight he will decide which of their kind will be allowed to go to the Heavyside, a decision and privilege which the cats regard with awe.

But it is "Grizabella, the Glamour Cat," a faded star who is now shunned by the others, a pariah even amongst her own cat kind, whose story we follow most frequently. Although she only appears onstage three times, Grizabella's story provides an arch through both acts, reminding us that sometimes a cat really can have a new life, even those cats who believe their time is over. Played by Dawn Durkin, whose rock and roll voice plays through Grizabella's tale perfectly, this role requires an actor who can evoke the most painful reminiscences without falling into pathos. By the second act, when Grizabella's modern standard, "Memory," is sung through, I had literal tears falling into my lap. The song, done wrong, is schmaltz. Done right? It is evocative and reminds the listener of the dreams we all once had, dreams that now seem buried and gone.

Other cats made sparkling impressions, such as the irrepressible duo, Mungojerrie (Estevan Velasco) and Rumpleteazer (Kianah Stover), whose sticky-fingered mischief together is playfully aggressive and quite acrobatic, like kittens on the prowl. Stevie Nichols, as Demeter, swishes into her number, "Macavity: the mystery cat," with breathy, sultry delight as her Fosse-esque choreography slides across the stage with seductive ease.

With strong company vocals heard in numbers like "Journey to the Heavyside," the cast works together as powerfully as they do in their solos. But the dance ability required in a musical such as this requires special mention, with cast members who must use their bodies both to tell their stories, and to give their choreography the cat-like grace called for. Erin Allen as Victoria, and Michael Maldonado as Mistoffelees, excelled in their dance moments onstage, giving artistry to the show's pop. As a whole, the choreography is woven into and out of the entirety of the show, with dance breaks that vary from solos, small groups, a lyrical pas de deux, or even raucous ensemble numbers, such as "The Jellicle Ball" and "Macavity Fight." And, if ever there was a show that deserves tombee pas de bouree glissade pas de chat? It's this one, and a wink to the audience in the know.

Directed by TJ Bowlin, the show serves as an excellent example as to why so many love this musical so passionately; it delights the eye and the imagination, bending our view of reality as theatre is meant to do. Although over time Weber's score can sometimes sound dated with its '80s synthesizer sounds, the show delivers a knockout one-two punch of strong performers transformed into something magical and otherworldly. To find out if "Cats" will make a cat lover out of you, visit their website at to purchase tickets online, or call 505.242.4750.

No comments:

Post a Comment