The following article was published in partnership with the Highline Times and was written by Aya Hashiguchi Clark.
The Hi-Liners, the magical musical theatre company who have artfully and wondrously put young performers on stage since 1966, have opened their 2012 Mainstage season with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “CATS.”
For those unfamiliar with the show, “CATS,” based on T.S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats,” is the love-it-or-hate-it musical that is heavy on the music and dance, but rather light on the plot. But audiences have mostly loved “CATS,” earning it the distinction of being the second longest-running show in Broadway history.
Jennyanydots (Tatum Moury), also known as The Old Grumble Cat, loves to lounge all day on her favorite sofa. Heartthrob Rum Tum Tugger (Brandon Root) is the teen idol tomcat who is adored by the ladies.
Grizabella (Victoria Knight) The Glamour Cat, left the feline tribe years earlier and is now unwelcome by the rest of the Jellicles. Bustopher Jones (Grady Stevens) is the fat cat who loves to eat.
An acrobatic pair of twin pranksters Mungojerrie ((Hailey Sagmoen) and Rumpleteazer (Ariana Mafi) burst onto the scene to scare up mischief and fun. But finally, the wise old leader Old Deuteronomy (Alex Gallo) arrives. His mission is to choose which of the Jellicle Cats will be reborn into a new life.
After the Jellicle Ball, we meet other cats. Gus (James Davis) the Theatre Cat is an old but once famous actor on the stage. Some of the other colorful cats we meet include Jellylorum (Frankie Curry-Edwards), Skimbleshanks (Trent Moury), Demeter (Alicia Hoag), Bombalurina (Amber Thatcher), Alonzo (Alexandra Marx) and the master criminal Macavity (Moshe Henderson).
Director Kathleen Edwards puts her own unique stamp on this production. Instead of the usual leotard and copious feline face paint and whiskers, Edwards costumes her actors in the style of the Japanese street fashion “Harajuku.” This includes a combination of styles like gothic and cyber-punk and reminded me of Japanese anime. Harajuku also incorporates cat ears and tails. Thus, a 21st century take on “CATS” is born.
The Hi-Liners cast of young performers have done their usual stunning work. Strong vocals by both the principal actors and the ensemble give the songs the credibility it needs to be thoroughly enjoyed by the audience and be considered much more than simply a “youth production.”
But what also elevates the production beyond the “youth theatre” label is the dancing. Choreographers Daniel Cruz and Katy Tabb provide eye-popping dance numbers. The youthful Hi-Liners are more than up to the task. As with every mainstage show I have previously reviewed, most of the principal players will make you nearly forget that this is not a “professional” production.
Add to this a first-rate orchestra led by R. J. Tancioco and a good time at the theatre is almost guaranteed. Brandon Hell as Munkustrap, Brandon Root as the Elvis-like Rum Tum Tugger and Victoria Knight as the old outcast Grizabella gave stand out performances. And, I especially enjoyed the fine gymnastic moves by Hailey Sagmoen and Ariana Mafi.
CATS plays at the Highline Performing Arts Center Saturdays and Sundays through September 30. Tickets can be purchased online at www.hi-liners.org, by phone 206-617-2152 or at the door (for $3 more).