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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Cats Purrs into the Village Theatre

Cats
Kari Lee Cartwright and Cassidy Katims
The run of Cats at the Village Theatre in Issaquah was selling like catnip before it ever opened, so - as was the case during the run of Andrew Lloyd Webber's cash kitty on the West End, Broadway or during its endless road tour - what any critic has to say about it is rather inconsequential. But since this staging of the mega-musical based on (and with lyrics derived from) T.S. Elliot's "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats" is the first ever by a Seattle area company, it is worthy of some closer scrutiny. And all in all, under Village artistic director Steve Tomkins' watch as director/choreographer, the show is lively, handsome holiday entertainment, performed by an exuberant cast, and featuring a spiffy set and snazzy lighting design by Village veteran designer Alex Berry.

If you have been residing anywhere in the civilized world the past several decades, the plot of Cats requires no explanation. But for anyone who has avoided all contact with the show and its content, here goes. At a yearly Jellicle Ball of the tribe of Jellicle Cats, their leader Old Deuteronomy chooses which feline will go "up, up, up, to the Heavyside Layer" to be reborn. While they await the selection, the audience is introduced to them by name and personality traits. And that pretty well sums it up.

Though the 21-member ensemble cast seems a bit scrunched up at times because of the amount of space required by Berry's elaborate Junkyard setting, they are an agile and amiable lot, several with acrobatic skills and all well employed by Tompkins and assistant choreographer Kathryn van Meter in varied and vital dance styles.

There are also more intimate showcase numbers for several key characters that rely as much on characterization as they do on terpsichorean talent. Comedy reigns supreme with Nick DeSantis' two featured spots which showcase what a triple threat talent he is, first as the portly but plucky "Bustopher Jones" and then, in sprightlier form in a breathless and blithe rendition of "Skimbleshanks, the Railway Cat." The ever-expanding skills of Kari Cartwright and the acrobatically adroit Cassidy Katims are the perfect pair for the larcenous but likable "Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer." Kathryn Van Meter has a successful change of pace from her usual vamp style, as the cuddly and lived in Jennyanydots' featured turn "Old Gumbie Cat." Krystle Armstrong's Bombalurina, Vicki Noon's Demeter and the female ensemble shine in the sultry "Macavity" number, with Broadway vet dancer Stanley Perryman as menacing Macavity offering a welcome cameo, even outfitted in the only real misfire among Melanie Burgess' otherwise delightful costumes. And Jason Ohlberg's dazzling dancing makes an act two highlight of "Magical Mister Mistoffeles," sung with style by Eric Brotherson's Rum Tum Tugger. Other ensemble member standouts include Casey Craig, Natalie Backman, and Brittany Jamieson, and Kasey Nusbickel.

There a few fur balls in the mix. Ekello Harrid Jr. has the voice if not the acting savvy for Old Deuteronomy; Brotherson's own spotlight turn as "Rum Tum Tugger" is overly forced and bombastic; as Grizabella, the Glamor Cat, Karen Kaiser makes the "Memory" live again on a technical vocal level, but doesn't carry over her well-observed physical interpretation into her dramatic interpretation of the song; and Gerard Theoret is rather pallid as "Gus, The Theatre Cat" till he breaks into his dance turn in "Growltiger's Last Stand." But the ensemble maintains a high level of skill and dazzle in the company numbers, and Tomkins' choreography offers some delightfully fresh surprises for those overly familiar with the original. Musical director Tim Symon's orchestra hit a few bumps on opening night, but that should smooth out during the run.

If you haven't gotten tickets for the Issaquah run, you may want to look into seeing this slick show in Everett. The show is a good bet, unless you have feline allergies.

Cats runs through December 31, 2005 at Village Theatre, 303 Front Street North, Issaquah, and at the Everett Performing Arts Center, 2710 Wetmore Avenue, Everett. For more information got to www.villagetheatre.org.


Photo: Village Theatre



- David-Edward Hughes



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