By Philip Pearce
MORE THAN 25 YEARS AGO, I watched Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Theater and decided I didn’t like it. Was I tired? Were the company of professional performers tired? Maybe both. Who remembers?
Watching Pacific Rep’s exciting new production of the show last Saturday I asked myself, “What’s not to like about Cats?”
An array of felines from T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats provides a memorable collection of comic, wistful and eccentric characters. Thanks to Eliot the lyrics are full of wit, a quality missing from those big, hydraulic Lloyd Webber musical melodramas. There are exciting cat costumes, whiskers and hairdos designed by Ziona Goren and Kitty Bloch. And there’s a wonderful back alley setting full of picturesque junk collected by Patrick McEvoy.
Director/Choreographer Joe Niesen has marshalled a corps of gifted dancers who can also sing and act and he’s created glorious things for them to do, like that noisy Pekes versus Pollicles dog and cat fight in Act 1, and the even better period British Rail excursions in Act 2.
Stephen Tosh has directed the voices with an ear both to the beauty of the music and the clarity of the lyrics, sung or spoken.
Everybody on stage is wonderful, but just to touch on some highlights, Nicole West and Kate Hazdovac charmed the socks off me as the mischievous and stripy Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer. D. Scott McQuiston (left) was a marvelously patronizing and pretentious retired ham actor called Bustopher Jones, The Cat About Town. Nico Abiera, glittering with vulgar sequins, kept sliding down a pole and setting off explosions as the flashy conjurer Mister Mistoffelees. Lanky Kevin Matsumoto dealt with exacting railway catering services and spectacular railway mishaps in the role of the irrepressible Skimbleshanks.
As expected, a vocal and musical highlight was the cat called Grizabella, played by the gifted Megan Root, recalling her glory days as the Glamour Cat in the lush words and music of “Memory.” Kind of a pity her heavily wigged outfit tends to conceal her face, but that of course would have revealed she’s still glamorous and nowhere near retirement age.
I could go on. But it’s enough to say that a quarter of a century ago I must have been suffering from Phantom of the Opera overkill. I’ve recovered. PacRep’s Cats is a new winner in a parade of first-rate theater events on the Monterey Peninsula.
It plays Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays at 2, in the Golden Bough Playhouse through December 20th. And Thursdays you can buy two tickets for the price of one.
Photos by Stephen Moorer