AISLE SAY…HE SAID: First DE Production of CATS a Feline Delicacy

by Greer Firestone

Poetry-wise, I’ll say Aisle Say is strictly a simple iambic pentameter type of fellow; “listening to the loons croon under the moon in June”, that type of thing. Pick up a book of poetry? There are reruns of ‘Jersey Shore’ to titillate my senses, thank you very much.

Cast members from New Candlelight Theatre's production of CATS, running through March 6 in Ardentown, DE.

 T.S. Eliot wrote ‘Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” in the ’30’s with the premise being feline psychology and feline sociology. Eliot’s nom de plume was ‘Old Possum’. It was Andrew Lloyd Webber’s favorite book of poetry as a child. The songs in the production are Eliot’s verse set to music.

I would hazard a guess that most who witness CATS for the first time are like me; with nary a clue as to theme or plot.  What made this the second longest running show in Broadway history was the total preposterousness of the assumption;  dozens of actors on all fours posturing and preening as do our beloved pets, outrageous costumes giving similitude to the characters, the inventive makeup, the dazzling dance and finally, Lloyd Webber’s melodies which cannot be shaken from your brain unless you were hit by linebacker James Harrison of the Steelers.

Why it took decades to premiere in Delaware is a question. But, in ‘cat’aclysmic understatement, the wait was worth it. Considering their budget restraints, Aisle Say does not know how they did it. But they did it! This is the finest show my dear sister Liz and I have ever seen at Candlelight in 43 years (the exception, Liz reminded me, being ‘Pal Joey’, in which I starred in 1970). By best I mean fully integrated; all the necessary talent demands coalesced into a fulfilling and spectacular theatrical experience. (The polar opposite being the $65 million boondoogle now on Broadway entitled “Spider-Man” and suffering from a tsunami of withering reviews.  Turning that production around from the national joke it has become will be truly Sisyphean.)

The kudos begin with Director/Choreographer Dann Dunn who spent a year on the Broadway tour playing the majority of the ‘cat’avating characters throughout the run. He hit the ground running the first day of rehearsal like a cheetah chasing lunch. He cast a few NCT dance stalwarts and brought in a large number of dancers who are making their NCT debut.  In this show one must be a  real triple threat, with the emphasis on the singing and dancing.

Scenic Designer Jeff Reim’s junk yard was reminiscent of similar sets I have seen in the traveling productions of CATS. Lighting Designer Chris Alberts does his normal distinguished work. Costumer Timothy Lamont Cannon doubled as Old Deuteronomy and excelled in both roles.

Here is where Aisle Say admittedly will fall short. It has been a long while since I last saw a production. With an over abundance of striped faces, fuzzy fur and painted spandex on stage, some of the cats looked alike. I was so transfixed with the delightful delirium I was witnessing, I will admit to some confusion matching actor to his part. I was looking forward to connecting feline face to name after the show but for the first time there was no ‘meet and greet’.

We all know Grizabella, the Glamour Cat (Erica Scanlon Harr) and her the iconic “Memories”. Hers was a stirring rendition.  Mr. Mistoffelees (Ryan Blackson), Rum Tum Tugger (Cory Wade Hindroff), Jennyandydots (Lindsay Mauck), Mungojerrie (Ricky Rotandi), Rumpleteazer (Alexis DeDonato), Gus/Bustopher Jones (David T. Snyder) and Skimbleshanks (Michael Angelini) and the entire cast was so talented and so enthusiastic I am scanning my thesaurus for platitudes as we speak.

On March 4 children under 14 are priced at $15.00

Til March 20. Some shows are sold out…deservedly so. 

Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by T. S. Eliot,Trevor Nunn, Richard Stilgoe
Directed by Dann Dunn
January 28 – March 20, 2011
New Candlelight Theatre
2208 Millers Rd.
Ardentown, DE 19810

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