By PAM HARBAUGH
Cocoa Village Playhouse fills its stage to the brim and beyond with a thoroughly entertaining production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s groundbreaking show, “Cats.”Rather than a musical with storyline, conflict, plot-driven music et al, “Cats” is more of a musical revue. Set in a junkyard beneath a full moon, a clowder of so-called “Jellicle” cats gather and show off their personalities. The musical vignettes, if you will, are drawn mostly from 20th century poet T.S. Elliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.” A thin story device does develop where the audience meets haggard Grizabella, despised for growing old, and eventually cheers her on into finding the next of her nine lives.
Produced by Anastacia Hawkins-Smith, CVP’s “Cats” is splendid looking. Lighting and scenic designer Ian Cook, scenic artist Sheryl Koby and production designer Jeremy Phelps create an ideal mood complete with touches of spectacle. Costume designer Daniel Hill and wig/makeup designer Sharon Metz do an excellent jobs replicating the iconic looks designed by John Napier (production designer of original West End and Broadway shows).Choreographer Pamela Larson deserves a special bouquet of roses after every performance for her deliciously layered and eye-popping work. Certainly, with an volunteer cast well hidden behind layers of face paint and woolly headdresses, inhibitions are shed and they deliver one heck of a dancerly show. There are a few ringers dancing, especially Torie D’Alessandro, dressed in white fur as “Victoria,” she is a dream of a dancer…and Nathaniel Knepper-Quijano, who, as Mistoffelees, performs one of the show’s big solo dance numbers.
Music director and conductor J. Thomas Black, Jr. leads a marvelous 17-piece orchestra that fills the entire theater with the Mr. Webber’s beautiful music while it moves the whole show along brightly. In fact, this might turn out to be CVP’s shortest run-time yet…despite all those showstopping performances:Ian Kennedy is a hoot as rock ‘n rolling Rum Tum Tugger and Brian Smith is fun in the swashbuckling flashback “Growltiger’s Last Stand.” Big kudos to Sally Kalarovich who brings it on big singing “Memories” in her role of Grizabella The Glamour Cat; and Michael Law who brings a big operatic voice to Old Deuteronomy.
And here’s a little backstage story that shows the commitment of the entire company. On opening night, dear Kari Ryan Furr, a very talented performer who sings like a dream, had a sudden case of laryngitis and could not sing in her roles of Griddlebone and Jellyorum. So Ms. Hawkins-Smith turned to Hope Goodman, one of the chorus members (they sing offstage to give vocal support to all those dancing performers). Ms. Goodman sang offstage while Ms. Furr lip-synched, and if it weren’t for one tiny misstep, no one would have noticed. That’s not all: that day, Rance Czermak injured himself and could not dance the role of Macavity that night, so again, a teammate filled in — Walter Johnson, who also portrays Rumpus Cat and George, spent a couple of intense hours rehearsing the Macavity role and delivered a solid performance.
It’s this type of heart that makes live theater so exciting, both to be a part of and to witness.
This is wonderful, polished and entertaining community theater. You’ll love every moment.
SIDE O’ GRITS: “Cats” runs through Feb. 21 at Cocoa Village Playhouse, 300 Brevard Ave., Cocoa. Call 321-636-5050 or visit CocoaVillagePlayhouse.com.