VISTA, California--I was willing to concede that if I never saw another production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Tony Award winning Cats, my life would be complete. Don’t misunderstand. Cats happen to be my preference of choice when it comes to pets. My late husband Gerry and I loved our cats, Cocoa (indoors) and Tiger (outdoors). Never the twain met because of conflicting interests and personalities.
He was so much of a cat person that I bought him a copy of the T.S. Elliot Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (Webber’s musical is based on that). It still looms large in my bookcase many years after my husband passed. Cocoa defaulted to me immediately. We both needed some TLC; he was interested in the food aspect and I was content with him on my lap purring and begging for more stroking. That’s how it went until Cocoa went to cat heaven, as did Grizabella (Debbie Prutsman) an old weary lady who was rejected and shunned from the tribe, later to be accepted. Her signature song Memories was heartbreaking.
I never did have the heart to replace Cocoa, but I have pictures.
Cats first opened in the West End in 1981 and then on Broadway in 1982. The London production ran for 21 years and the Broadway production for 18. In 1997 it became the longest running musical in Broadway history. Sept. 10, 2000 was its last performance becoming Broadway’s second longest running show in history. It was made into a movie in 1998 and has been translated into over 20 languages.
I don’t remember how many times Cats passed through San Diego brought to us by Broadway/San Diego, but I think I’ve seen every last one. When Moonlight Amphitheatre in Vista announced its summer season, which included Cats, in my mind, I decided to take a pass. But a little nudging from my friends brought me to Vista and the surprise of my life (at least for that moment).
As reported to you in the Moonlight’s opening show of the 2009 summer season, 42nd Street, the theatre has undergone some major renovations including fly spaces, dressing and rest rooms for the actors, new lighting and sound equipment, new stage and over all new accessibility to the seating itself all approved by the A.D.A. The venue is a little gem in the quiet surroundings of Brengle Terrace located in Brengle Park. What surprised me during the production was that the more intimate space of the venue makes the show come alive.
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For those who have never seen the show, it might be difficult to imagine an entire cast of actors dressed to look like, well, cats all twenty or so of them not including the chorus of cats. They all look different (Roslyn Lehman, Renetta Lloyd and Carlotta Malone are the ‘costume coordinators’), have different makeup (Paul Hadobas is makeup coordinator) and looks and each one has a different role to play. Most crawl, hiss, play, and wrinkle their noses, pounce, stalk or roll around when not singing and or dancing. It is, after all, a musical.
Moonlight Theatre under the deft direction of Steve Glaudini with spot on choreography by Carlos Mendoza is being given a peppy and energetic, up close and personal rendition of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. Based on my own recollections of past productions there seemed to be more dancing and less nose wrinkling and crinkling in this show. And the dancing is amazing and dazzling with tap, jazz and classical all to perfection.
The set is the same junkyard background with all the assorted cats gathered on stage to explain to the audience the Jellicile Tribe of cats (Jellicile Songs for Jellicile Cats) and how the cats are named. And so begins the long journey of the junkyard cats inviting the humans in the audience to a ritual ball. All having their turn at telling their story in an all singing all dancing musical. we meet the Old Gumbie Cat, Jennyanydots (Susan Stuber), the Rum Tum Tugger, (Elijah Reyes), Macavity (Dustin Ceithamer) and Mr. Mistoffelees (Aaron Lloyd Pomeroy is a standout), of Magical Mr. Mistoffelees, (one of my favorite numbers) to name a few.
Old Deuteronomy (I don’t think it has any bearing on Deuteronomy where the Shema is mentioned) is the sage of cat-dom. Michael Skidgel is outstanding and in powerful voice as the Old Deuteronomy, who has lived many lives and “buried nine wives.” It is Deuteronomy who gets to choose which Jellicile cat will go to Cat heaven. He’s the Man!
Overall the evening was a success even after a few scratchy moments with the sound system (Peter Hashagan). Conductor Kenneth Gammie moved his 16-piece Moonlight Orchestra effortlessly with only a few minor glitches. But the best of the evening came in the satisfaction that this might just have been one of the finest productions of Cats I’ve seen and appreciated so far.
Moonlight’s winter season moves to the Avo Playhouse in Vista. Their season lines up as follows: The Foreigner;
Swingtime Canteen; Ring Around The Moon. For times and dates visit moonlightstage.com
Cats continues through September 26th.