On the second floor of Baltimore’s Best Western Hotel and Conference Center in a seemingly industrial area off I-95, practical cats, romantical cats, political cats, and allegorical cats are purrfectly dancing and singing in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Broadway megahit CATS presented by Toby’s Dinner Theater of Baltimore.
Based on T.S. Elliot’s poetic classic “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats,” Cats, which contains no spoken dialogue, tells the story of the Jellicle Cats, a tribe of highly entertaining cats such as Jennyanydots, Rumpelteaser, and Rum Tum Tugger who reunite once each year in a junkyard to celebrate and to hold a ball honoring one cat who is chosen to be reborn into a new life.
Cats, which opened in New York City’s Winter Garden Theatre in October 1982, won 7 Tony Awards and ran until 2000 (over 7,000 performances), making it one of Broadway’s most beloved and longest-running musicals.
The show opens with the furry feline characters slinking over old barrels, street signs and other trash artfully arranged on the stage and, at times, into the audience in the explosive opening number, “Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats.” The huge cast of over twenty cats, complete with amazing feline inspired makeup, wigs and lycra bodysuits covered with fur, easily fill the stage as they gracefully move and spin through Paula Lynn’s fun and energetic choreography. The direction for this sequence was very well done and allowed the cats to engage with the audience. The cats’ beautiful vocals soar and weave throughout the small venue, as they attempt to answer the question, “What is a Jellicle Cat?”
Munkustrap, in a stand-out performance by David Jennings, is the show’s defacto narrator and protector of the tribe. A silver/gray tom cat, his strong, deep voice is impressive and easily fills Toby’s theater as he sings “The Old Gumbie Cat,” introducing Jennanydots (Katie Harrington), an old gumbie cat who sits around all day but bosses the mice and cockroaches at night. The tap dance sequence with Jennyanydots and the roaches is silly but will make you laugh as she attempts to “prevent [the roaches] from idle and wanton destroyment.”
Another highlight performance came from one of my favorite cats, Rum Tum Tugger, a lady’s tom cat who is difficult to please, memorably played by Frank Anthony. Anthony explodes onto the stage in a sexy, extra tight black bodysuit complete with a wild tawny mane, singing “If you offer me cream then I sniff and sneer,” in “The Rum Tum Tugger.” He strides, spins and gyrates all over the stage in this hilarious yet sexually charged performance. His strong voice is expressive as he snarls and smiles while hip thrusting to the audience’s (and the female cats’) delight. His other main vocal number in the show, “Magical Mr. Mistoffeless,” was also filled with energy and was a crowd pleaser.
Scean A. Flowers (Mungojerrie) and Ashleigh King (Rumpleteazer) also provided show stopping performances as the pair of notorious and sly cat-burglars. Although they were overwhelmed by the volume of the orchestra at times during their song, both Flowers and King dazzled with their high energy dancing and impressive vocal chops. Along the same lines, Tina DeSimone’s (Demeter) and Debra Buonaccorsi’s (Bombalurina) sexy rendition of “Macavity: The Mystery Cat” brought down the house. Not only was their singing some of the best in the show, the sexy choreography perfectly matched the tone of the song. It was one of my favorite performances of the show.
I would be remiss, of course, if I failed to mention Janine Sunday’s superb performance as the former glamour cat, Grizabella. Sunday, a four time Helen Hayes Nominee, beautifully conveys Grizabella’s physical frailty and emotional vulnerability as she is shunned by the tribe as she attempts to attend the Jellicle Ball. Staggering around the stage in her shabby grey coat, Grizabella’s loneliness and sorrow are palpable. However, after the Ball, she is permitted by the tribe leader, Old Deuteronomy, memorably played by David Bosley-Reynolds, to tell the cats that “It’s so easy to leave me all alone with the memory of my days in the sun.” Sunday’s achingly beautiful performance of “Memory” was thrilling. Her full voice was rich and powerful as it filled every inch of Toby’s.
A special mention must also go to Charlie Abel of his portrayal of the old theater cat, Gus and to Hannah Leigh (Victoria), the pure white kitten whose beautiful dance solo begins the “Jellicle Ball” sequence.
Toby’s Dinner Theater is an easy 45 minute drive from Washington, D.C. and the superior quality of this production should convince any Broadway lover to make the short trip.
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by T.S. Eliot, Trevor Nunn and Richard Stilgoe
Directed by Toby Orenstein and David James
Music direction by Pamela Wilt
Choreography by Paula Lynn
Produced by Toby’s – the Dinner Theater of Baltimore
Reviewed by Sabrina Daly
Cats runs thru November 7, 2010
Click here for details, directions and tickets.