Theatre-by-the Sea’s Production is the Cats Meow

Jul 2, 2013

The cast of CATS at Theatre By The Sea through July 13.
Credit Steven Richard Photography / Theatre-by-the-Sea

It’s a funny thing about “Cats.”

Some people, many actually, are enthralled by this musical taken almost completely from a poem by that Anglo-American literary icon, T.S. Eliot. “Cats” lovers adore the music by Andrew Lloyd-Webber and are happy to forget about the almost plotless story line that finds a beat-up old cat restored to vibrant life.

Others, myself included, enjoy much of the music but really find “Cats” to be a clawless work, more a stagnant showing off piece than anything else.

So , make your choice and pay your money. Or not.

But one thing I think most people will agree on is that the current production at Theatre-by-the-Sea in Matunuck is a winner. Done with both great energy and thoughtful interpretation, this thoroughly professional “Cats” is as good as any touring version I’ve seen and notably better than most.

Which is quite a thing to say considering the postage stamp stage at Theatre-by-the-Sea. When you have 15 or so dancer/singers rambling over that cramped space . . . Well, somebody’s got to do a first-rate job in simply maneuvering all those troupers.

That’s where director and choreographer Richard Stafford comes in. While his work adheres, as it must by contract, too much of the original London and New York staging, he has managed to bring freshness and enthusiasm to this more than three decades old show.

Take for instance, the “Mr. Mistoffsllee’s” number, perhaps Lloyd Webber’s best and certainly his most melodic and sing-able. The director has the cast, all those pretty and talented cats, out in the aisles where many of us in the audience found ourselves singing along with the pussy cats and Rum Tum Tugger.

In case you’ve been on a theatrical hiatus for 30 or so years, that is one of the cats in “Cats” and Chris Stevens brings force and fun to the role. Other standouts include the wonderfully named Felipe Barbosa Bombonato who is a vibrant Bustopher Jones not to mention pitching in a couple of other roles.

Of course, the most famous number in “Cats” is “Memory,” a lovely song with lyrics by the show’s original director, Trevor Nunn. In it, a burned out poor old cat named Grizabella hungers for her glory days but expects only more tragedy. Katy Blake sells the song beyond anything I’ve seen before. Her force is perhaps a bit over the top at times, but surely the point is made, and given the singer’s personal stamp.

Others, including Jordan Dunlap as Victoria and Peter S. Adams as Old Deuteronomy, are thorough pros in this well-done production.  But then, so is the entire cast. Jammed on to the small stage they play big, but bring individual color and life to “Cats.”

So if you are a “Cats” person, and want to see it one more time, this a good one. “Cats” lives well at Theatre-by-the-Sea.

Want to Go?

“Cats” continues at Theatre-by-the-Sea in Matunuk through July 13th.