REVIEW: Hi-Liners’ Musical Production of ‘CATS’ is a Fresh Interpretation
[EDITOR’S NOTE: The names of the Actors that originally appeared in this review have been deleted at the request of Hi-Liners Artistic Director Kathleen Edwards, to meet their guidelines of not critiquing specific performers in the young cast.]
by Shelli Park
SCENE: Present day, urban alley, graffiti covering concrete walls, concert posters plastered, dumpster, abandoned shopping cart, street lights.
Enter Harajuku Cats!!
The Hi-Liners latest production is directed with fresh interpretation by Kathleen Edwards. Kathleen updates the famous 1980’s spandex and leg warmers extravaganza by Andrew Lloyd Webber, based on the T.S. Eliot book “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats”. She bring an urban edge and color explosion inspired by Harajuku, Japanese street fashion, to the stage.
I thoroughly enjoyed the celebration of cat-dom on stage as these young performers interpreted a very challenging musical score.
Lighting, designed by Robert Aguilar, is sufficient, but at least during the tech rehearsal I saw, was lacking a bit in depth. I’m not sure if it is a deficiency of the Performing Arts Center stage lighting system, or the fact that what I saw was a rehearsal, but there were performers lost in shadow, particularly noticed when all of the performers were grouped onstage. The action pace is quite quick during some numbers and I can see that it is quite a challenge keeping up with the many solos. There are nice moments at the beginning with silhouetted walls backed by the softening of twilight, and during McCavity: The Mystery Cat number when the six girls performing were flooded with pinks and purples causing an effect akin to creating a 3-D comic book, throwing great shadows on the backdrop.
The set is solid. The designer, Kaleo Quenzer, re-created an urban alley complete with custom posters incorporating cast members, graffiti, brick and concrete, multiple levels of action, and secret hidey-holes. The set crew did a great job constructing and painting. It is a strong presence in the musical, creating a gritty, urban feel.
Candace Frank must have had a lot of fun designing the costumes for this production. Bringing Harajuku to the musical stage is a wonderful project. Searching for the parts and pieces, wigs, and tights looks like a good bit of work. The makeup was quite varied, and sometimes hard to read.
Choreography has its moments. I can see the influence of co-choreographer Daniel Cruz (Katy Tabb is the other) in parts, but I was hoping to see more of his amazing choreography. It is difficult, I know, to draw edgy movement out of young, suburban theater kids. I applaud the decision to bring Mr. Cruz on board, and hope that he gets a chance to add his flavor to a professional production of CATS! some day. I think that part of what hinders some of the dance is the number of performers versus the size of available stage. By the end of the run, I know that the dance aspect will be tighter.
The numbers when the whole ensemble is singing are amazing! All ranges represented and accounted for. I am impressed by the strength of collective voice and ability to hold strong tone and accurate harmony for such a young group. The chorus numbers which really shone were Prologue: Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats, Skimbleshanks: Railway Cat, and Old Deuteronomy. Prepare yourself to be amazed!
Speaking of Old Deuteronomy, the young man who plays this role has an amazing voice. His foray into opera is apparent. His breath control, projection, enunciation, and pitch are a joy to listen to. As Old Deuteronomy, he has big shoes to fill as a wise, old cat, and I think that with more experience and maturity he will be someone to watch.
Skimbleshanks has style as a hip hop station master cat. Cruz’s choreography really shines here. And the boys pull it off. Very enjoyable.
CATS! has a storyteller, Munkustrap, who functions as the leader of the pack. His bio reads that he is studying music and psychology at Pacific Lutheran University. That tells me a lot about his interest in character, being human or cat. Marry that with his study of music and you have the making of a great musical performer. Hell’s singing is strong. His acting and dancing draw the viewer into the story, and onto the stage. Hell also plays the role of Growltiger, pirate-cat. Thank you for the Italian Aria! His versatility is obvious, jumping back and forth between roles. A very capable performer.
Jennyanydots’ performance is hilarious. She has great expression, and a wonderful voice. The chorus of girls who accompanied Moury on The Old Gumbie Cat number was truly wonderful. They pranced onto stage in high-style. The comedic timing was great!
The duet by Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer was wonderfully performed by two young ladies with much acrobatic talent. The two girls lend their talents to a few numbers in the performance, bringing a nice splash of pizazz and interest. They are also wonderful singers. Their costumes are playful and sleek; just right for two mischievous catburglers.
The girls who sang Macavity: The Mystery Cat really pulled out the stops, particularly Demeter, who defies her age with her grasp of projection and soul.
The most iconic song in the musical is Memory. Memory is Grizabella’s song, and the actress who played her obviously has talent. She has nice vocal range. Last night she seemed to have a hard time being consistent in both singing and acting. Nerves? Lack of confidence? I have hopes.
The orchestra performance fills the PAC and is spot-on. R.J. Tancioco succeeds in aptly conducting this talented group. The sound is full and fulfills my expectations for the soundtrack in my mind. There are a few places, namely the numbers sung by Rum Tum Tugger, where the pace could be slowed down just a hair. It is difficult to understand all of the rapid fire text in a meaningful way when it is such a challenging pace.
Rum Tum Tugger has a lot of fun swagger! He is quite capable of pulling off the attitude of that notorious Rock-n-Roll cat. I’m very glad that there were places, namely during Growltiger’s Last Stand, with Italian Aria, where Root was able to let his singing abilities shine through because of the slower pace of the number. I very much enjoyed this talented young man’s performance.
I have one complaint about the printed program. The musical numbers are listed on one page, and the characters are listed alphabetically with the coordinating cast member on the other, but I haven’t memorized which cat sings what solo, and the soloists or characters aren’t listed under the songs they sing. And there is so much pink hair, I had a hard time keeping all of the pink-haired girl performers straight. I apologize for not naming specific girl performers, or naming them incorrectly.
There are many highlights in this great production of Cats!. Kudos to Kathleen Edwards and her capable crew for bringing this difficult and satisfying version of the second-longest running Broadway show to Burien.
PHOTOS (click images to see larger versions/slideshow):
“Join The Hi-Liners Musical Theatre in celebrating this purr-ennial favorite with a completely new design concept—more MATRIX than SPANDEX, MANGA not MANGY—THESE ARE NOT YOUR MOTHER’S CATS!” reads an announcement.
Highline Performing Arts Center (Map & Directions).
(At-the-door ticket price is $3 more than normal price.):
- Premium: $25 ($28 at-the-door)
- Adult: $18 ($21 at-the-door)
- Senior: $15 ($18 at-the-door)
- Student: $12 ($15 at-the-door)
- Child: $12 ($12 at-the-door)
ALL SEATS RESERVED.
Based on the universally popular poetry of T.S. Eliot, CATS tells the story, in song and dance, of the annual gathering of Jellicle cats at which time one special cat is selected to ascend to the Heaviside layer. A true musical theatre phenomenon, CATS opened at London’s New London Theatre on May 11, 1981 and ran for a record-setting 21 years. CATS’s London success was nearly matched on Broadway where it ran at the Wintergarden Theatre for just over 18 years. (Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Based on Old Possum’s Book Of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot.)