Much like my experience with Les Miserables at Beef and Boards, I came to a recent performance of B&B’s CATS with little or no exposure to the show. Oh, I had seen a clip from it on television and I certainly had been exposed to it’s hit song, “Memory”, but never had I seen the entire show. Upon telling people this, the most typical reaction I get is as if I had never been to a bank or to a dentist. The truth is, I have simply never had an opportunity to see CATS, and so this first chance to do so comes at rather a fortunate time, I think – because now, I can write about it.
My larger point is that I saw this production of CATS through unfettered eyes. I have neighbors and friends who have seen the play in New York or even in London, and I imagine they will come to this show with a different set of expectations and understanding. So, this review is my impression of what I saw, from my “first exposure” perspective.
Let me start with the talent I saw. Director/Choreographer Buddy Reeder’s 22 member singer/dancer/acrobat/gymnast/actor ensemble delivers dance and vocal performances that are nothing short of breath-taking. When the complete cast is onstage, their precision and proficiency is never anything but brilliant. And while the entire cast is so astonishingly striking, there are also individual performances that take the audience to an even higher level of amazement. In no particular order – Brooke Leslie Brown as Victoria, shows us her inspired and dazzling dance skills; Kristin Noonan as Jellylorum/Griddlebone, has us holding our breath during both her daring silk panel aerials and her incredible vocals; Judah Frank as Rum Tum Tugger, brings polish and panache to his characterization with an exceptional song and dance presentation; Aaron Della Villa as Mistoffelees, displays superior dance skills in his energetic performance; and Eileen Faxas as Grizabella, truly delights us with her superb renditions of “Memory”. And those are just some of the highlights! I also need to point out the excellent stylized choreography that director Reed brings to us through his talented corps. It is at once so complex and so very expressive. And the variety seems endless. With 18 or so dance numbers to create, he seems to never lack for new and original ideas on how to turn a dancer’s cat-form into magical manifestations.
The incredible cast of Beef and Boards’ “CATS”
All this action is well-supported by Terry Woods’ crisp orchestra direction and by lavish costumes provided by the talents of John White and Jill Kelly. As you can imagine, or can recall if you are one of the many CATS
aficionados, the costumes are a huge part of the production, as is the makeup – which was also designed by Mr. Reeder. So, all the necessary elements for great theatre are there – onstage. And I was truly wowed by all of the cast members’ performances.
Then, there is the story. The program tells us that CATS is based on T.S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats”, a collection of humorous poems which Eliot evidently wrote to amuse his many cat-loving friends. Many of the lyrics of the songs are entirely taken from these poems. Fair enough – a great author is used as a source for a great composer, Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Created upon this element is the thinnest of story lines. Cats meet once a year for a ball, at which time they select one of their kind to be sent to cat heaven to be reborn. Fine enough, but as I say – thin. And thinly related to the audience, in my opinion.
To my unfettered eye, what the show seemed to be about is…well,…cats – this cat and that cat featured in one musical dance number after the other. And as I expressed earlier – this cast’s performances were all top-notch and I fully enjoyed and appreciated them for the extreme skill-set that they showcased. But I guess, I must have expected that more of a tale would be told. And I was surprised as the show spun on, that all the astonishing work I was watching was so much more akin to a revue than to a story. In my defense, I have read that: (quote) -Due to the Eliot estate asserting that they write no script and only use the original poems as the text, the musical had no identified plot during the rehearsal process, causing many actors to be confused about what they were actually doing. (end of quote). I felt the same.
Those of you who are CATS lovers obviously look past this or are locked into everything that is happening because of your prior experience with the show. Having had nothing to base my fresh exposure to the show on – I, too, felt confused at first. Be it my own personal theatre background or training OR taste, I have to say this: I was absolutely blown away by the astounding performances – but not so much about the “script”. And I lament: Everyone else loves CATS – why can’t I?
Finally, I cannot fail to mention the delicious buffet provided by Chef Odell Ward – it really was one of the best selections of items I have seen there – and the uncompromised service that the entire B&B restaurant/theatre staff provides for your visit. (Sidebar: A couple sitting near us arrived very late due to having a flat tire on their way to the theatre and when they arrived just before curtain, the B&B staff made sure they had drinks and plates of food – after the buffet line had closed – and the couple was made to feel that they were very important to everyone serving them. I was quite impressed!)
Bottom line: I strongly suggest you get your B&B tickets soon for what will be a very popular show. And, when you go to see this great Beef and Boards show – and I know most CATS devotees will – a little advice if you are like me and the show is new to you, do a little online research (I never do that before seeing a show I am reviewing – always after), know what to expect, and thus fully enjoy this truly amazing production.
CATS continues through March 30 at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre. Show schedules, reservations, and other information is available by going to http://www.beefandboards.com or by calling the box office at 317-872-9664. Box office hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays.
ALSO IMPORTANT TO NOTE:
Sail into adventure with Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre’s debut of How I Became A Pirate, opening on Valentine’s Day! This exciting new Pyramid Players production is based on Melinda Long’s best-selling children’s book, and is on stage through March 15 for kids of all ages.
Young Jeremy Jacob is recruited by Captain Braid Beard and his mates to help find the perfect digging spot for their treasure. Along the way, Jeremy learns all about being a pirate, and discovers many surprises – including the perfect spot to bury the treasure.
How I Became A Pirate is live on stage Feb. 14 through March 15, and is the first production in the 2014 Live Theatre for Kids series at Beef & Boards. Pyramid Players productions are one hour in length and presented without intermission. Performances are for all ages, but offered particularly for children in preschool through sixth grade. Children have the opportunity to meet the cast after each show for pictures and autographs.
Performances take place at 10 a.m. on most Fridays and at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. on most Saturdays. All tickets are $15.50 and include a snack. For reservations, contact the box office at 317.872.9664. Box office hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays.