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'Cats' at North Shore Music Theatre is ferociously fun
By Sally Applegate
Wicked Local/ Community Newspapers
August 22, 2013

Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Cats" starts with darkness and mystery, set off by a menacing sounding overture. This mood setter is possibly overlong, but audiences who wait it out are rewarded with a gorgeous, energy-packed feline romp.

Drenched in glorious color with equally glorious music set to the felinely clever words of T.S. Eliot, the North Shore Music Theatre production is a must-see for lovers of dance, and anyone who has ever been owned by a cat.

Director/choreographer Richard Stafford has previously dazzled NSMT audiences with "9 to 5," "Singin' in the Rain," "The King and I" and "Crazy for You," and he dazzles them again with "Cats."

His remarkable cast of cats and kittens hits a home run here, with blazingly energetic performances of Stafford's athletically challenging and acrobatic choreography. These dancing cats, by the way, are all also blessed with singing voices so exceptional that one wouldn't dream of throwing a shoe at them.

Always the centerpiece of "Cats," the role of ancient glamour cat Grizabella is given a passionate performance by Katy Blake. Blake's emotion, brilliant acting and glorious voice turn the second act reprise of "Memory" into a defining moment for the show.

Kevin Loreque is the lucky dog - er, cat - that gets to rock out as the sexy Rum Tum Tugger. This is a beguiling role, and Loreque claims it with humorous gusto. Creative vocal work, great moves, and some fun interactions with the audience make this cool cat one of high points of the show.

 The comic opera scene in act two is aced by Bronson Norris Murphy as Growl Tiger, with a soaring opera voice, and a nice performance as Gus, the aging theater cat reliving past triumphs. His partner as both Gus's caretaker and his opera costar is the wonderfully warm Lynn Craig. With Craig's warmth as Jellylorum, and her delightful opera turn as Griddlebone, the two performers make an impressive pair.

Another irresistible pair is Hillary Porter as Rumpleteazer and Mark Donaldson as Mungojerrie - a romantically entwined pair of perfectly matched cats.  Their impeccably timed and wildly acrobatic dance wows the audience.

Ryan Koss as Mistoffelees absolutely blows the audience away with a brilliant dance performance as the magical cat. And reigning over the proceedings with a splendid vocal performance as Old Deuteronomy is Trent Armand Kendall.

Rounding out the cast, Amanda Pulcini is wonderfully animated and charmingly humorous as Jennyanydots. Lucas Thompson brings a brilliant baritone voice to Munkustrap, filling in for Ian Parmenter. Molly Emerson is lovely as sweet white kitten Sillabub, and Lauren Sprague is jazzy and sexy as Bombalurina.

 This show is awash in creative lighting effects, and each member of the ensemble displays dazzling dancing and fine solo voices. This combination makes for some fascinating harmony and precisely performed big group numbers during the evening.

If all this isn't enough to bring you to this performance, how about the brownie points you will earn from your cat when it notices the new respect in your eyes?


Family-friendly ‘Cats' still a great spectacle
Friday Aug 23, 2013

There is very little middle ground when it comes to "Cats." Either you love it and are happy to see it again and again, or you become dangerous, armed to the teeth and ready to start firing at the first notes of "Memory."

Suffice it to say there are a lot of cat-lovers in the United States and beyond, and suffice it to say, those millions are asking: doesn't their little tabby act just like that cat in the show?

"Cats" is at the North Shore Music Theatre through Sunday (Sept. 1) and while it is still short on story, it is still long on spectacle and dance.

Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber's paean to felines, based on the poems by T.S. Eliot, ran 18 years on Broadway - far beyond the lifetime of a normal cat - and has lived on since in regional productions and tours.

It has always been a true ensemble piece, with everyone in the cast getting his or her turn at bat dancing or singing a cat with a particular personality trait: Rum Tug Tugger (Kevin Loreque), better known as the Elvis Cat; the magical Mr. Mistoffellees ( Ryan Koss ) or the sinister black cat Macavity (Joe Moeller). In their singing and dancing, they have a chance to put forth that character.

The scenic elements have had to be scaled back a bit - the junkyard set on Broadway that rose to the sky isn't quite as grand , and the tire that carries Grizabella up to the Heavyside Layer has also been scaled back to the confines of the stage.  
But the other elements are all here - the costumes, lights, music and some dazzling choreography by director/choreographer Richard Stafford, a veteran of several successful NSMT shows who also was involved in the very beginnings of the show. He knows how to stage a production number in the round.

Katy Blake as Grizabella gives strong voice to the legendary "Memory." Lucas Thompson is a very energetic Munkustrap and Trent Armand Kendall instills the necessary gravitas in Old Deuteronomy, while Mark Donaldson and Hillary Porter are a spunky, acrobatic Mungojerry and Rumpleteaser
Hats off to Bronson Norris Murphy as the portly Bustopher Jones, Gus the Theatre Cat and his alter ego Growltiger, ably performed and his cohort Lynn Craig as Griddlebone. None other than the late Sir John Gielgud himself was Gus in the West End of London way back when, and if you YouTube the song, you can see by that point Sir John's career.

NSMT owner Bill Hanney has co-produced "Cats" with his Theatre by the Sea that he also owns in Matunuck. R.I.

Whether you consider "Cats" great theater may depend on whether you are intimately acquainted with Friskies and Fancy Feast. At the very least, it is a family-friendly and a great way to introduce your kids to theater - like I did.


‘Cats' at NSMT offers memory for a lifetime
Athletic production of Webber's masterpiece has audience leaping to its feet
by Sean Leonard
August 23, 2013

"Cats", on stage now through Sept. 1 at the North Shore Music Theatre, is brilliant in every aspect and pure family entertainment from beginning to end.

The Andrew Lloyd Webber masterpiece, based on T.S. Elliot's collection of poems Practical Cats, comes to life in this theatre-in-the-round in a highly athletic production, a flawlessly performed score and cast of "Jellicle cats" that sweeps the audience into their world and journey to the "Jellicle Ball" and beyond.

Even those not familiar with the show - one of the longest-running ever on Broadway (1982-2000) - surely know its staple song, "Memory." And in the NSMT production, actress Katy Blake's Grizabella delivers a beautiful rendition of the song with a crescendo that moved some in the audience to tears and most to their feet Wednesday night.

Other highlights packed into this 2½-hour show (including 20-minute intermission) are too many to count. The audience is taken on a different ride with the story of each of the main cats as they're introduced.

There's Jennyanydots (Amanda Pulcini), who appears lazy to all since she sits around all day, but by night jumps into action teaching mice to crochet and cockroaches to tap dance. And Pulcini handles the latter with a deftness that would make Ginger Rogers proud.

There's Bustopher, the fat-cat aristocrat (Bronson Norris Murphy) who provides a comic turn; and Asparagus, the frail old theatre cat (also played by Murphy), whose story is sung by Jellylorum (Lynn Craig), one the show's narrators. Others who sing and narrate are Munkustrap (Lucas Thompson) and Rum Rum Tugger, the curious cat (Kevin Loreque).

We meet the playful yet mischievous couple, Mungojerrie (Mark Donaldson) and Rumpleteazer (Hillary Porter), who perform an endearing duet; Macavity (Joe Moeller), the cunning and elusive thief in the night; and the magical Mr. Mistoffellees (Ryan Koss), who holds the audience spellbound with an incredible song-and-dance routine.

There's Growltiger the barge cat (a third played by Murphy); Skimbleshanks the railway cat (Jonathan Stahl); and the most commanding of the Jellicle cats is Old Deuteronomy, the tribe's elder statesman and Father Time-figure, convincingly played by veteran actor Trent Armand Kendall.

So, what's the story about?

That's a question many unfamiliar with the show were asking at intermission of Wednesday night's opening.

Though the story is a simple one, it can be lost in Webber's score and lyrics, even though soloists sing articulately and the chorus sings with precise synchronicity.

It's a good idea then for those heading to see the show for the first time to read a synopsis beforehand.

In that vein, Cats is about the arc of life and different personalities we encounter along the way - and ultimately about death and rebirth.

Each year on the night of the Jellicle Moon, Jellicle cats gather to attend the Jellicle Ball, after which Old Deuteronomy selects one to move on to the "Heavyside Layer," where death awaits and rebirth to a new Jellicle life.

Spoiler alert: If you don't know and have never been told, Grizabella - the aging glamour cat who yearns to be the cat she once was - is the chosen one and willingly ascends to the Heavyside Layer, but not before sharing with the audience her fleeting "Memory" of "what happiness was" and her "days in the sun."

Cats is show everyone should experience at least once. NSMT offers the opportunity for a memory you'll cherish.


CATS purrs on the North Shore
AUGUST 29, 2013

Richard Stafford may have a dog, but he could also speak of owning “Cats.” After serving as dance captain and playing featured feline Skimbleshanks on Broadway in the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, this veteran out director-choreographer is now helming its North Shore Music Theatre revival. (It plays through September 1.)

“I have seen it [the show] from both sides [as performer and director],” Stafford explained to Bay Windows.  “Having learned the show and known the rigors of it, I can empathize with what [the cast] is going through.” Indeed, “Cats” is second nature to Stafford. “I was the supervisor for the Broadway and touring productions for many years,” he added. “I’m really faithful to the original [Broadway staging]. “

So it says much that Stafford was very satisfied with Anthony R. Phelps’ scenic design for the show’s focal alley and the second act evocation of Growltiger’s ship. “I feel as though [the alley] is very detailed for North Shore.” As audiences will see after intermission, “We have something [a large steering] coming up from the center of the stage.”

The famously long-running show has enjoyed more than nine lives: including substantial runs in Mexico City, Buenos Aires, Rio and Copenhagen. “It’s the mystery of the feline world that keeps it alive,” says Stafford of the show’s enduring appeal. Yet Stafford also has a knack for keeping the look and the movement of that mystery remarkably fresh and eye-catching. With virtually no plot, save for the rehabilitation of ragged former glamour-cat Grizabella, “Cats” essentially depends evoking the enigmatic charms of its title creatures: especially in the show’s snappier second act. Stafford has clearly fired up the show’s large cast (representing, as always, diverse feline breeds) so that individual, duet and ensemble numbers share a very high caliber of form and synchronization.

As should be the case in a strong revival of a show that is driven by the transformation of its performers rather than by plot and character development, the strong cast members compellingly abandon their human characteristics for their respective cat roles. They slither, swagger and mark out their individual territories. Choreographer Stafford keeps their kick lines, combinations and turns as sharp as his direction. Even theatergoers who feel this musical is overrated (and this cat-loving critic, owner of two indoor American short hair siblings, has been one of them) should find much that is delightful about this production.

There are several standouts in the crack cast. Lucas Thompson, standing in for Ian Parmenter as Munkustrap, delivers crisp phrasing. Katy Blake as Grizabella brings real pathos and stirring emotion to the score’s one great number, “Memory.” Bronson Norris Murphy smoothly moves from frail veteran actor cat Asparagus’ reflections on the theater and his long career to a vivid evocation of one of his famed roles: that of cocky pirate adventurer Growltiger. Trent Armand Kendall brings the right blend of paternal attentiveness and age-tested wisdom as Deuteronomy. Ryan Koss as mischievous Mr. Mistoffellees, bringing arresting speed to his one leg turns, makes the number named for him a true showstopper. All cast members, moving quickly through the North Shore Music Theatre aisles, make the energy and agility of their characters palpable throughout the production.

Kendall Smith lights the alley and the experiences of the various cats with poetic nuance. With this production, Stafford and company make a “Cats” that simply purrs.


Reviewed by Tony Annicone
Theatre Mirror
August 22, 2013

North Shore Music Theatre's summer musical is Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Cats", one of Broadway's longest running musicals. It is based on "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats," a collection of poems by T. S. Eliot. The musical tells the story of a tribe of cats called the Jellicles and the night they make what is known as "the Jellicle choice" and decide which cat will ascend to the Heaviside Layer and come back to a new life. "Cats" contains no spoken dialogue, revolves around the antics of such feline characters as Old Deuteronomy, Jennyanydots, Mr. Mistoffelees, Rum Tum Tugger, Skimbleshanks and Grizabella who sings the crossover hit song "Memory". Originally produced at the New London Theatre on May 11, 1981, "Cats" began its New York run at the Winter Garden Theatre on October 7, 1982. The show won seven 1983 Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Score for Lloyd Webber. On September 10, 2000 "Cats" finally hung up its whiskers after nearly 18 years, and a record 7,485 performances. The show's appeal is clearly universal, as it has been translated into over 20 languages. Director/Choreographer Richard Stafford has extensive experience with "Cats", having performed in and served as the dance supervisor on the Broadway production, and directing and choreographing several touring and regional productions, too. He and musical director, Milton Granger create a high energy dance masterpiece that will leave you astounded with the power of the vocals and the dancing expertise of their multitalented cast. The crowd leaps to their feet at the outstanding performance they witnessed. Bravo!

Richard blocks his performers marvelously whether they are dancing or interacting with the audience and each other. His choreography includes tap dance, jazz, ballet, kick-line and many others expertly performed in perfect unison. The harmonic blend of the cast is fantastic and Milton obtains strong vocals from them as well as leading a ten piece orchestra while playing the keyboards. The lighting by Kendall Smith and sound by Benjamin Furiga are marvelous and the cat costumes by Kansas City Costume Company are breathtaking. The moonlit junkyard set by Anthony Phelps is topnotch, too. "Cats" is a pastiche of songs and dances rather than a traditional musical with a story. It contains a dozen musical vignettes that celebrate various feline character and their midnight revels. Weber's music contains bouncy music hall ditties, some rousing anthems and syncopated march music. Richard gives each cast member their moment to shine as their character. His dances stop the show with their majestic power, beauty and execution. The musical reaches its apex when the bedraggled glamour puss, Grizabella, beatifically ascends to wherever good cats go in their next lives. The special effects during this scene and throughout the show are astounding. Katy Blake plays Grizabella wonderfully. She sings "Grizabella:The Glamour Cat" in the first act and later stops the show with her rendition of "Memory". Katy tugs on your heartstrings with the most beautiful song in the show leaving the audience in tears. Her rendition will resonate with you long after you leave the theatre. Trent Armand Kendall as Old Deuteronomy, the patriarch of the cats, anchors this production. He uses a gentle hearted demeanor to reach the audience. Trent delivers a multilayered performance in the role of a large old cat who has lived many lives and married nine wives. His powerful voice fills the theatre in his songs. Old Deuteronomy will pick which Jellicle cat will go to Heavyside layer at the end of the night's revels.

The chorus members voices soar in several of their numbers including "Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats", "The Naming of the Cats", "The Song of the Jellicles" and "The Journey to Heavyside". Other standout performers include Ryan Koss as Mr. Mistoffelees, who sports an infectious smile and whirlwind spinning skills. His magical powers bring Old Deuteronomy back to them in a splendid magical moment in the show. Kevin Loreque as Rum Tum Tugger sings "Mr. Mistoffelees". This cat is a rock and roll singer ala David Lee Roth and is dynamite in this role. He picks a lady out of the audience and dances with her which is hilarious. Amanda Pulcini shines as Jennyanydots who sings several songs including "The Old Gumbie Cat" which turns into an energetic, show stopping tap dance and "Bustopher Jones: The Cat About Town". Bronson Norris Murphy plays Bustopher as well as Asparagus. He and Lynn Craig as Jellylorum sing "Gus:The Theatre" which is very touching and emotion packed. Bronson uses an old man's voice as Gus and immediately transforms himself into the young, heroic pirate Growltiger. He displays a terrific baritone and Lynn displays a marvelous soprano voice while doing so. Lucas Thompson is dynamic as Munkustrap, the musical's emcee. His terrific tenor voice is heard in "The Old Gumbie Cat", "Old Deuteronomy", "Jellicle Choice/Daylight" and in the wonderful fight segment with Macavity called "Macavity Fight". Lucas stepped into this role at the last minute and is splendid in this role. The limber and athletic Joe Moeller shines as the villainous Macavity. He does some athletic dancing as this bad boy cat. Joe recently played the Tin Man in "Wizard of Oz" at NSMT. The mischievous cat burglars Mugnojerrie and Rumpleteazer are well played by Mark Donaldson and Hilary Porter whose song livens up the show with their hilarious antics and their awesome dancing prowess with somersaults and tumbles. Kudos to Bill Hanney and his team for creating this musical masterpiece. So for a high energy musical that will enthrall you all night long, be sure to catch "Cats" before they dance their way out of town. Tell them Tony sent you.


"CATS" at the North Shore Music Theatre
By Robin Shaye
August 29, 2013

The popular Andrew Lloyd Webber melodies accompanied the writings of Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot in North Shore Music Theatre's opening night performance of CATS on August 21, 2013.

As a huge Webber fan, the music did not disappoint. From the bare bones stage, enhanced with dramatic lighted affects, the cast of CATS leaped into their Jellicle Ball amid smoke and accompanying orchestra. The rousing opening number was a tad slow and a hair breadth away from enthusiastic. But opening night energy can be breath taking, especially for a cast that are accomplished dancers as well as singers. Vocally, it was magnificently harmonized. The rest of the show was appropriately animated and lively.

As CATS story line is based on a series of poems which introduce the many personalities of our feline friends. The Old Gumby Cat aka Jennyanydots (Amanda Pulcini) was a humorous and familiar description of the cat that languishes all day, but indulges in secret playtime at night. The playmates appeared as a group of talented and tapping cockroaches that amused the audience with a well synchronized song and dance routine.

Kevin Loreque as Rum Tum Tugger was an interesting combination of Bowie and Presley, and captivating while performing a song about his dalliances or about the magical Mr. Mistoffellees, portrayed by Ryan Koss, who definitely took center stage with his dancing abilities. Performing a dizzyingly rapid series of turns, both his execution as well as the melody of the signature song was well embedded with the audience.

The simple theme that was delicately woven throughout the entirety of CATS were Grizabella the Glamour cat, now past her prime, wishing to be chosen to return to another Jellicle life. The aging Grizzabella is the cat best known for delivering the beautiful and well known Memory. Played with the tentative steps of an elderly feline, it was an effective contrast to Katy Blake's first few utterances of notes which held the promise of her magnificently powerful voice of the well loved song in the first act and reprised in the second act.

Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer, played by Mark Donaldson and Hillary Porter, respectively, were endearing and adorable. Porter had played Rumpleteazer at other venues and it was evident that was a favorite role. Together with Donaldson, it was an effective duet.

My favorite performance was Macavity providing a bluesy, burlesque interpretation of the suave cat. The duet between Erica Sweany as Demeter and Lauren Sprague as Bombalurina was provocative and entertaining.

All the actors donned were well covered in heavy costumes and wigs. In order to compensate for their feverish dance numbers, the theater was definitely chillier than other performances. Sweaters are highly suggested.

As each feline character and personality was introduced, reminding some viewers of perhaps their own pet, some of the background stories seemed pointless and created a disconnect with the audience, evident by their weak reception. CATS has enjoyed great success and numerous awards since its opening in 1981, however it's not for everyone. As T.S. Eliot wrote, "(I'll) say a cat is not a dog." The freeform storyline should be taken as well performed vignettes loosely related culminating in a joyous ending, which will have the audience humming as they leave the theater.

CATS will be running until Sunday, September 1. Directed by Richard Stafford and Jonathan Stahl, "CATS" based on "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats" by T.S. Eliot with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, is at the North Shore Music Theatre, 62 Dunham Rd Beverly, MA 01915 through June 23 Tickets $45 - $75. Information: (978) 232-7200 or visit

(MY GRADE: 4 out of 5)


Cats at the North Shore Music Theatre - 5 Stars
by Claudia A. Fox Tree
August 24, 2013

During the familiar overture, before an actor even stepped on the stage, the fog, strobe lights, strings of tiny, colored lights from the ceiling, and hanging full moon made my heart flutter. Up and down the aisle actors appeared, too dark to make out, but with what appeared to be neon glowing eyeglasses. Then they disappeared. On stage, I could see an oversized sneaker, two-foot diameter bike wheel, three-foot high Campbell's soup can, and enormous tin water bucket surrounding the stage, giving scale to the show (and its characters' implied small sizes) and future places to come and go from sight. My excitement was building.

The North Shore Music Theater's performance of CATS is THE family show of the summer. Because it is entirely dance, music, and song, with no spoken dialogue, and includes elaborate make-up, CATS is not often put on in local towns by high schools or youth drama. Here is a chance to see it in a unique venue, performed in the round. All seats are good seats. In addition, the actors approach the stage from multiple aisles, in full character, on all fours, sometimes coming right up to your legs, wanting a scratch behind the ear or to play with the empty candy box under your seat. Audience interaction is encouraged as the "cats" meander by seats, making this show purr-fect for kids.

I've seen this musical dozens of time, on video. That is to say that it has played at least once every month at my home since the Broadway cast staring Ellen Page recorded their live performance and released it on VHS in 1998, almost two decades after it premiered. To say I know all the songs is an understatement. I had to hold myself back from singing it aloud after years of hearing it throughout my house while I was cooking or cleaning. However, unless you are a fan, the most notable song from CATS is "Memory" which stands alone, with or without the musical to back it up. Katy Blake hauntingly performs this number as Grizabella the glamour cat when she remembers her once glorious past at the end of the show, "Touch me, it's so easy to leave me all alone with the memory of my days in the sun."

CATS is a musical composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber based on "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats," a collection of poems by T.S. Eliot. North Shore's production is stunningly directed and choreographed by Richard Stafford. It has been translated into over twenty languages, but there are several moments in this musical where it is the dance that captures the audience with traditional synchronized movements, high kicks, and full splits, and also acrobatic handsprings, cartwheels, and aerials. There is even an impressive pas de deux (two dancers) and pas de trois (three dancers) from traditional ballet, all accompanied by a live orchestra under the music direction of Milton Granger. This show is a dance performance, as much as a musical.

When you observe closely, these cats look like they are from the 80's with their "big hair," leg warmers," and torn clothing. But don't get me wrong, the costumes are not "cheesy," they are polished and perfect. When an actor puts on this degree of make up, they lose a part of their human selves and become the cat that they represent. The cuddly nature of cats and other cat behaviors are highlighted in this show from when they step out from the wings until they move through their actions on stage. Live performance, where I select what to watch, beats recorded video from a camera's single perspective for this interactive performance.

I found it fascinating to watch all the cats, even those not featured, as they were grooming themselves, moving their arms as if about to explore and then changing their mind, and tipping their heads out of curiosity and then pulling away just as quickly. I laughed out loud to see the cats imitating dogs in "The Awful Battle of The Pekes and the Pollicles." I was impressed by the quick costume changes from a present day overweight cat to a past-sequence wonder, like when Jennyanydots (Amanda Pulcini) becomes a tap dancing master as she rules over mice and cockroaches, whose costumes, by the way, were brilliant! At one point, the female cats and kittens performed a number that felt a little burlesque, and I smiled again.

Each cat has its own personality, which is a testament to the brilliant acting of the ensemble as they bring to life the stories of Rumpleteazer (Erica Cenci) and Mongojerrie (Mark Donaldson), Gus and Bustopher Jones (both portrayed by Bronson Norris Murphy), Skimbleshanks (Jonathan Stahl), and Rum Tum Tugger (Kevin Loreque). Rum Tum is a crowd favorite, but he wasn't mine. He is the long-haired rock star of this eighty-esque drama, but wasn't as sexy in voice or actions as I anticipated from the hair band glam I grew up with.

The story is simple, leaving all its energy to focus on storytelling through dance and song. The Jellicle cats gather once a year to decide on which cat can be reborn. Several cats take turns at nominating their favorite cat for this gift of rebirth. There ensues a song about that cat doing the introductions, or one about his/her nominee. Trent Armand Kendall has a commanding presence and deep resonating voice as wise Old Deuteronomy, who will cast the definitive vote. He listens to the stories and observes, watching, in particular, how the cats and kittens treat Grizabella. They hiss and ostracize her. Macavity (Joe Moeller) kidnaps Old Deuteronomy, but Mr. Mistoffelees (Ryan Koss), magically makes him return. The black sparkly Mr. Mistoffelees is my favorite character and his amazing dancing is a highlight of the show.

If you arrive early, there is a fabulous outdoor Garden Cafe, which was filled to capacity with folks spread out, sitting on ledges, and enjoying the beautiful afternoon during the time before the show. Inside, snacks are available like in a movie theater, with pre filled popcorn containers lining the counters for purchase.

The North Shore Music Theatre made a plea for membership before CATS started. Traditionally, they begin their season with a classic show. Next season, they will begin with Anything Goes, then perform Disney's The Little Mermaid, Grease, Chicago, and finally close the season with Les Miserables, which they have not performed in seven seasons. I would have to agree with the Artistic Director, this upcoming fall season is a great time to become a subscriber.

by Sheila Barth
August 29, 2013

Three years ago, when the national touring company of "Cats" appeared at the Colonial Theatre in Boston, I concluded, "Although some theatergoers said they didn't understand this personified play and oftentimes couldn't distinguish some of the singers' lyrics, they weren't complaining. The overall, spectacular production was a satisfying feast of the senses."

At North Shore Music Theatre's (NSMT) production in-the-round, appearing through Sept. 1, that same complaint resonates. Vexed, theatergoers during the first act tried to figure out what was happening around them. Although the theater's acoustics are nearly perfect, the audience struggled with some lyrics. According to press notices, this production appeared earlier this month and received sensational theatergoers' praise at NSMT owner Bill Hanney's Theater By The Sea in Rhode Island. It was adjusted for the large Beverly theater-in-the-round.

Perhaps somewhere between these two shows, something is lost in translation. During the first act, theatergoers delivered tepid applause. Two perplexed young women seated near me said they were confused, but admired several aspects of the show. Others agreed. During the finale, several people delivered a standing ovation.

Based on T.S. Eliot's 1939 collection of poems for children, "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats,"  Andrew Lloyd Webber's operetta, "Cats," earned the distinction of being the long-running, multi-Tony Award-winning Broadway show (18 years - from 1982 to 2000) until "Phantom of the Opera" nudged it to second place.

So why is "Cats" so successful? Surely, it isn't the plot. Obviously, it's the special effects, choreography, costumes, and Webber's music. There's lots of action, too, during the play's annual Jellicle Ball, when the Jellicle Cats that inhabit a junkyard convene for a howl of a time. That's when leader Old Deuteronomy chooses who will be reborn.

 Besides a police raid, a warring group attacks the Jellicles, kidnapping Old Deuteronomy. But magical Mr. Mistoffelles conjures up marvelous feats in the theater aisle, rescuing and restoring the reverential leader. As dawn breaks, the Jellicles fulfill their destiny.

Amidst Kendall Smith's swirling lights, eye- and ear-popping effects, such as steamy puffs and gusts of magenta and smoky-colored columns, stage fog, and glittering silver confetti, personified felines' dramatically enter and mystically disappear. Director-Choreographer Richard Stafford's balletic, acrobatic choreography is visual shock and awe as they furtively lurk and slink in the aisles, on raised platforms and amid theatergoers.  A few years ago, Stafford directed and choreographed Cat's-Eye LLC touring production, and his same energetic, purr-fect dancing is the show's signatory achievement.

Amid swirling police lights, sirens, and red spotlights, they slink down the aisles, purring, sidling up against people seated on the aisles.

These cats are howling for attention, catapulting themselves acrobatically through the air and across the stage, singing, dancing, pirouetting, creeping, slinking, staring.

In the darkness, accompanied by creepy, mysterious music, their spooky, psychedelic green eyes emerge from the shadows, peering at theatergoers, their actions unpredictable.

On stage, their stripes, fur, manes and tails are coats of many colors. Lithe calicos, Persians, black cats, spotted cats, fat cats, older cats, theatrical and cool cats, spritely cats, and rundown, worn-out, raggedy cats converge under the big, white harvest moon.

During the opening number,"The Naming of Cats," conductor Milton Granger on keyboard leading the fantastic North Shore Music Theatre Orchestra, melodically introduces each cat, how each one has three names and the significance of their authentic cat name.

From sage, elderly leader, Old Deuteronomy, (Trent Armand Kendall) to fallen glamor cat, Grizabella (Katy Blake), there's also magical Mr. Mistoffelees (Ryan Koss); Macavity, the mysterious, villainous cat (Joe Moeller);  Victoria,(Jordan Dunlap), a young white, spritely kitty; Jennyanddots (Amanda Pulcini); theatrical cat, Asparagus, affectionately called Gus,(show-stealer Bronson Norris Murphy) who flashes back to his most prominent role as pirate, Growltiger; ladies' heart throb-prankster, Rum Tum Tugger ( dynamic Kevin Loreque); Bustopher Jones (also Murphy), the 25-pounder; Sillabub, the young kittycat, (Molly Emerson); Jellylorum (Lynn Craig); Bombalurina (Lauren Sprague); acrobatic, playful kitties, Mungojerrie (Mark Donaldson) and Rumpelteazer (Hillary Porter), who infectiously giggle while mischievously listing their household pranks and burglaries; Skimbleshanks (Jonathan Stahl), the train-riding cat; and others.

These slinky, lithe felines garbed in Kansas City Costumes, are ubiquitous, from Anthony E. Phelps' sparse, junkyard set design, with its salvage red convertible car, random boxes and trash, to their catlike, uncanniness, sneaking among, above, around and nearby.

Grizabella, (Katy Blake), a broken-down, remorseful former glamour-puss, returns to her roots, but the Jellicles reject, shun and taunt her, treating her like an outcast. Sadly, the shabby tabby sings Webber's hauntingly beautiful hit song, "Memories," but receives no pity from the group, until unexpected circumstances and some soul-searching produce a change of heart. Grizabella ascends to Cat Heaven or the Heaviside Layer, to be resurrected, in a new life.

Wise patriarch Old Deuteronomy instills wisdom in closing number, "The Ad-dressing of Cats," advising us that cats are very much like us humans.

Those "Memories" linger on.


The Andrew Lloyd Webber mega-hit needs an energy booster in the NSMT production.
by Jennifer Bubriski
Friday Aug 23, 2013

One of the longest running shows in Broadway history, CATS has enough whimsy and memorable tunes to be an entertaining, frisky kitty of a show. However, the North Shore Music Theatre production is more like a cat enjoying a spot of sun on a languid summer day -- it's cute and all, but ultimately low energy and a bit of a snooze.

Based on a collection of poems by T.S. Eliot, the show is a series of musical sketches about a variety of cats, strung together with a bit of an eye roller about a selection of which cat will be reborn into a new life and a lot of references to Jellicle cats.

Yes, it's silly, but there's exuberance to Andrew Lloyd Webber's music and a cheekiness to Eliot's poetry-as-lyrics that can be tremendous fun. The NSMT production only occasionally achieves that level of fun. Credit some clever choreography and charming performances in "Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer" where Mark Donaldson and Hillary Porter bring a pop of energy to a duo of mischievous cats.

But that energy more often is missing. Director/choreographer Richard Stafford doesn't start off the show right; the movement during "Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats" seems flat and timid, as if Stafford was worried about having so many dancers on NSMT's relatively small stage and limited showier moves when the entire cast is on stage.

Every bright spot where vocals and dance build to a crescendo, like Erica Sweany and Lauren Sprague's slinky rendition of "Macavity" (nicely aided by the female ensemble), are outweighed by stretches of boredom. What should be raucous, an ensemble like "The Awful Battle of the Pekes and the Pollicles" feels labored and pointless.

A cockroach tap dance is more interesting, and the showpiece dances for Jordan Dunlap (as an elegant ballerina of a cat) and especially Joe Moeller (as the endlessly spinning Mr. Mistoffellees) are great fun. However, other numbers that are built to be showstoppers, like the rock and roll "Rum Tug Tugger" just feel sleepy and underplayed.

The Tugger's leonine costume is perfect though, as are the rest of the costumes borrowed from Kansas City Costume. Ken Smith's lighting design is another creative high point, providing a lot of atmosphere and texture on a surprisingly spare set by Anthony R. Phelps.

With the up tempo numbers suffering from lack of zing, the quieter moments in "CATS" pack more punch. Katy Blake as Grizzabella the fading glamour cat thoughtfully conveys desperation and also does a lovely job of the show's pop hit "Memory." Bronson Norris Murphy is amusing as the rotund, aristo-cat Bustopher Jones and does lovely, subtle work as Gus, the elderly theater cat.

NSMT's has often taken lavish musicals and shown how they can thrive from a more intimate take in the theater's smaller space, closer to the audience. Unfortunately, this version of "CATS" downsizes the leaps, kicks, energy, and fun.


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