27 January - 11 February, Geelong Performing Arts Centre, Geelong
Okay, I have a confession to make. I call myself a theatre nerd and yet up until recently I had never seen the stage musical Cats! Cats, composed by Andrew Lloyd-Webber, is arguably one of the most famous musicals in history and is the second-longest-running show on Broadway. So when I walked into the Geelong Performing Arts Centre (GPAC) to see Footlight Productions' 2012 production of Cats, I had high expectations.
Cats is the story of group of cats, called The Jellicle Cats, who live in an abandoned mansion. The audience is introduced to them as they prepare for the Jellicle Ball, a special night where one cat is chosen to be reborn in another life.
It's a strange narrative for a musical, so I initially thought that it would be difficult to get into the story since there are no human characters. However, producer Peter Wills and Director Elaine Mitchell's vision made it easy to be swept up in the majestic world of The Jellicle Cats.
Through song we are introduced one by one to the cats, including Old Deuteronomy the leader of The Jellicle Cats, Grizabella the glamour cat who is now shunned by the rest of the group, Macavity the mischievous villain, and Magical Mr. Mistoffelees the magician cat.
The highlight of this production was the extremely talented cast, which included some of Geelong's best singers and dancers. The cast brought great energy and commitment to each character. Their singing was faultless and the dance sequences showcased the amazing abilities of these young performers.
While all of their voices were stunning, the show sometimes lost some of its momentum during the solo numbers. The lively, constant energy displayed in the full cast numbers made up for this, though.
One of my favorite scenes was the Jellicle Ball, during which there was a large dance break that was visually quite spectacular. The choreography by Geelong choreographer Jordan Punsalang was very creative and a perfect fit for the show.
Much of the success of the show was due to the music and it's a testament to the orchestra that their brilliant performing set the pace and tone for the show.
So much can be said about the costuming, hair and makeup. It not only engrossed the audience in the world of these feline characters but, put simply, made the production fantastic to look at. With everyone on stage, the colors and textures stood out and gave each character a different personality.
The set was simple yet effective, with a large neglected staircase, movable couch and big window in the background giving the feeling that everything was in proportion to the size of the cats. The couch and curtains were ripped and tattered, further illustrating that the mansion had long been ruled by the Jellicle cats.
My favorite scenes included Gus the Theater Cat, who was once a famous actor but is now old and "suffers from palsy which makes his paws shake". Gus's song was sung beautifully by both Lachlan Turner, who played Gus, and Emily Jacker, who played the cat Jellylorum.
Skimbleshanks the railway cat, played by Max Corstorphan, also featured in a fun, energetic scene, as did Rum Tum Tugger, the cat who all the other cats find attractive. The extravagant entrance of Rum Tum Tugger, played by Thomas Russell, and the comedic nature of the song alongside lots of hip movements had the audience giggling.
Of course the solo performance of the song "Memory" by Grizabella the glamour cat was also a standout as Jocelyn Mackay's strong, amazing voice ably carried what is the most recognisable song from the show.
One thing I particularly enjoyed in this production was the attention to detail that both the director and cast took in portraying the cats. The slinky, elegant movement, the shrill hissing and catlike noises and even the way the "kittens" played with the set pieces in the background all added that extra something to the performance.
Overall, Footlight Productions created a flawless, entertaining and visually stunning show. They made the whole production seem effortless and easy, as if they had performed it a million times before. This theatre nerd can now happily say she has finally seen Cats and that she thoroughly enjoyed the show.
4 out of 5.
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