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No matter how many times it plays the Triangle, Cats will still be the cat's meow of British megamusicals. The current national tour, produced by Troika Entertainment LLC and Cat’s-Eye LLC and presented as a 2007-08 Season Special by Broadway Series South, is a fast and funny version of Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber’s landmark 1981 musical. Originally staged by director Trevor Nunn and associate director/choreographer Gillian Lynne, Cats put the capital-M and the capital-E in musical extravaganza, and helped start the trend toward ever-more-spectacular shows, powered by ever-more-ingenious special effects.
The 2008 edition of Cats, smartly staged by long-time tour director and choreographer Richard Stafford, with invigorating instrumentals by musical director/conductor William Waldrop and orchestra, opened Tuesday night and received a standing ovation from local Cats fanciers. Raymond Huessy’s magnificent multilevel junkyard set, Rick Belzer’s spectacular lighting, and the fabulous feline costumes by John Napier quickly put the audience in the mood for a moonlight stroll through the London haunts immortalized in Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot.
Cats 2008 stars Seth Lerner as Old Deuteronomy, the compassionate but increasingly frail leader of the exuberant band of Jellicle Cats that occupies downtown London; Tracy Tanguy as Grizabella, the once-chic but now hopelessly bedraggled Glamour Cat; Chris MacKenthun as that fabulous feline song-and-dance cat Mr. Mistoffelees; Zander Meisner as the irrepressible showoff Rum Tum Tugger, always ready to bust a move; and Christopher E. Sidoli as Gus (nee Asparagus), the now-decrepit Theater Cat, whose salad days were decades ago.
Lerner is positively lyrical as he performs Old Deuteronomy’s signature song, “The Moments of Happiness”; and Tanguy can belt Grizabella’s (and the show’s) signature song, “Memory,” with the best of them. MacKenthun is incredibly light on his feet and his lively portrayal of the magical Mr. Mistoffelees is a showstopper; and Meisner makes Rum Tum Tugger 10 feet tall and bulletproof, prancing around the stage like a rock-and-roll god in the midst of the ultimate ego trip.
Chris Sidoli adds a poignant performance as Gus, the one-time toast of the London stage; and he positively sparkles in the title role in the play-within-the-play, “Growltiger’s Last Stand,” as he reprises his trademark role as the swashbuckling barge cat done in by sneaky Siamese pirates.
Sidoli also contributes a nice cameo as Bustopher Jones; Anissa Hartline gives a pixilated performance as Griddlebone; Cara Michelle Fish is charming as roly-poly Jennyanydots; and Daniel A. Rysak is sublimely sinister as the evil one-cat crime wave and incredibly elusive Macivity, a veritable Napoleon of crime.
From the opening number (“Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats”) to the grand finale (“The Ad-dressing of Cats”), this grand and glorious Troika Entertainment LLC and Cat’s-Eye LLC presentation of Cats is a winner, because the cats on stage and the cats in the orchestra pit can really howl; and a standing ovation at the final curtain — and not an oversized shoe tossed in their direction — expressed the final verdict of the Broadway Series South audience that attended Tuesday’s high-octane performance.
Broadway Series South presents Cats Thursday-Friday, Jan. 24-25, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Jan. 26, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Jan. 27, at 2 and 7 p.m. in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $35-$70. Progress Energy Box Office: 919/831-6060.Tickets through the presenter's website. Group Discounts (for groups of 20 or more): 919/857-4565. Broadway Series South: http://www.broadwayseriessouth.com/. The Show: http://www.reallyuseful.com/rug/shows/cats/ (The Really Useful Group Ltd.) and http://www.andrewlloydwebber.com/sections/theatre/show_cats.php [inactive 10/09] (Andrew Lloyd Webber Home Page), and http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=2449 (Internet Broadway Database). CATS TOUR V (unofficial site): http://www.msjellicle.com/tour/ [inactive 6/09].The TV Movie (filmed for PBS’ “Great Performances”series): http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0173714/. Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (1939) by T.S. Eliot: http://coral.lili.uni-bielefeld.de/Classes/Summer97/SemGS/WebLex/OldPossum/oldpossumlex/ [inactive 8/09].