'Cats' steps up to plate for well-deserved treat
By Joseph T. Rozmiarek
Special to The Advertiser
By Joseph T. Rozmiarek
It was a gamble when Vanita Rae Smith scheduled "Cats" for the current slot in the Army Community Theatre season.
The Andrew Lloyd Webber 1981 show became the longest-running musical on Broadway in 1997 and has been toured extensively across the country, but was never before available for amateur production.
Based on "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats" by T.S. Eliot, the show doesn't have much of a plot, and its string of musical numbers requires extensive dancing and singing. Surely Smith must have had some doubts about pulling together the talent to make it work.
The result is available for view through March 11 at Fort Shafter's Richardson Theatre and will have you searching through your program to find out where these people came from. The production fairly spills over with excellent dancers, singers and production personnel.
The talent comes from all over — the University of Hawai'i, the community, the Mainland, cruise line and community theater productions and dance companies throughout the state. Some have credits as gymnasts and cheerleaders, teachers and church and opera soloists.
Smith produces and directs, Grace Bell Humerickhouse choreographs, and Lorna Mount conducts the large orchestra and handles musical direction. All are blessed with a wonderful cast that gives a thoroughly ensemble effort, without any of the soloists stealing the spotlight from the company players — as can happen with a touring show.
The chorus is remarkably articulate and the dance numbers are synchronized when they need to be and personalized with individual variety when they don't. Tumbling, gymnastic flips and pirouettes add punch. Individual and choral vocals range from competent to downright thrilling.
With so much company expertise on display, it seems almost inappropriate to highlight single performances. But there are moments of individual excellence that punctuate the ensemble.
Joshua Tucker as Old Deuteronomy and Sarah Markovits as Grizabella have the big solo numbers, with Markovits essaying the signature song "Memory." She's joined in its lovely reprise by Shawna Masuda (whom you will remember from her leading roles in "Miss Saigon" and "Beauty and the Beast").
Jay Flores does the vivid set piece pirate number as Gus, the Theatre Cat, while dance leads go to Jimi Wheeler as Rum Tum Tugger, Philip Amer Kelley as Shimbleshanks and Lowen Patigayon as Mr. Mistoffelees.
The chorus does a prolonged gymnastic display on the "Jellicle Ball" and excels at choral speaking with "The Naming of Cats."
The furry costumes add a real Broadway look, and designer Dennis Hassan sets the action appropriately in an Army scrap metal yard. Lighting designer Derron Peterson provides dramatic visual effects as Grizabella ascends to the Heavyside Layer, but if she really flies up, we fail to see in the cloud of smoke worthy of a space shuttle blastoff.
Just when you might have thought you'd seen enough of "Cats," the Army Community Theatre production makes it worth seeing again.