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Previews
Cats

Cats

by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Corn Stock Theatre
June 3rd-11th, Upper Bradley Park
By Cara Rosson



About half way through act one of Cats, I realized what it is. It is a joyful fantasy. An entertaining meditation on what the world of our feline friends is like. It made me think of a good book for reading at the beach – a fun way to start the summer, and an amusing way for Corn Stock to open their exciting summer line up of shows in the tent at Laura Bradley Park.

This musical is based on a collection of whimsical poems that T.S. Eliot originally wrote in letters to his godchildren. They were collected and published under one of Eliot’s pseudonyms, as “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.”

The essence of the story is that a clan of cats is gathering for their regular ball. They call themselves the “Jellicle” cats, and open the show by telling the Jellicles’ story and then naming themselves, explaining the meaning of the three different names every cat has. Director Linda Grimson’s notes let you know that the cats are telling their life stories to their leader, Old Deuteronomy. This ancient cat will then pick one cat to go to what they call the Heavyside Layer to be reborn and start a new Jellicle life. This plot is not easily discernable from the show itself, so do read the director’s notes in your program – I was glad I did, especially since Old Deuteronomy does not appear until the 6th number.

The talented cast, and their unique costumes, do a great job of individualizing each cat. You quickly get a sense of each personality, and each cat’s role in this clan. The setting has them gathering in an alley behind a pizza place and a Chinese restaurant, climbing on and leaping from oversized pizza boxes, Chinese food cartons, and recycling bins. The third number, “Old Gumbie Cat,” starts off the individual stories with a cute tap dance number. You’ll find that the musical styles are as individual as the cats. The next number with Rumtumtugger has a modern rock angle, then Bustopher Jones offers a proper, British, Gilbert and Sullivan-esque manner. Each number presents another era or genre of music, from Growltiger’s Italian aria and duet, to the suspense, jazz, ballet, swing and boogie of the big Jellicle Ball, and the lively railway tune of Skimbleshanks’ tale.

The lead cats are well cast and have strong voices. Josh Hammond as RumTumTugger is quite the rock star, strutting around the stage like he owns the alley, plus he has a great voice. I loved watching him. And Aaron Elwell as Growltiger is terrific in the flashback play-within-the-play that pits the Siamese cats against the Pirate cats, in what seemed another bit of an ode Gilbert and Sullivan. The most well known song from Cats is “Memory,” sung here by Amanda Humphreys as Grizabella. I’ve heard this song hundreds of times, but Humphreys managed to put her own style and talent into it – and it felt fresh and new, even after years of listening to Betty Buckley belt it out.

There was intermittent trouble with the body mics cutting out, which was especially disappointing when Gus, The Theatre Cat’s microphone went out for most of his song. The story seemed funny, but I couldn’t hear any of it. Hopefully these problems will be resolved for the second week of shows. And the recorded music was not great, but past experience tells me that it’s difficult to have orchestras in outdoor settings. Things like heat, humidity and rain are very bad for delicate instruments. I suggest we all make an extra donation to Corn Stock so that they can afford higher quality musical recordings. Or you can simply take yourself, and all your friends to see Cats, sell out all of Corn Stock’s shows this summer, and they should have plenty in the budget for more amusing musicals like Cats.

Cats will continue through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. each night at Corn Stock Theatre.  Tickets are $18 for adults and $12 for youth 18 and under.  Tickets are available at the Corn Stock Box Office, by calling 309-676-2196 or online at www.cornstocktheatre.com.

Posted Monday, June 6, 2011

 
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