SHE SAID: It’s the CATS Meow!

by Lila Achuff

Ready, Get Set, GO! NOW! He who hesitates… Trust me when I tell you… I’m going to begin gushing now… I can’t believe how fantastic this show, CATS, was/is at the New Candlelight Theatre in Ardentown, DE. If I were giving out grades (I am a veteran “retired” teacher), they’d be A’s across the board! Another “lucky me” night of entertainment! Choreographers, you don’t want to miss this production directed and choreographed by Dann Dunn who spent a year on the road with the Broadway National Tour. Keep in mind that this is a dinner theatre, too, but it’s possible to see the show without having the dinner should you decide this would fit your plan and your wallet better. (However, the shrimp are excellent!)

Erica Scanlon Harr as Grizabella in New Candlelight Theatre's production of CATS, running in Ardentown DE through March 20.

This musical, composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber, was based on Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot. It first opened in London in 1981, went on to Broadway in 1982 and won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1983. The final curtain came down in the year 2000. There is also available a 1998 DVD based on the stage version.

The set was a super reproduction of a huge nocturnal junkyard. No scene changes. Lighting was well done except for none on the cats when they appeared among the audience. There were not enough of them crawling all around us for my preference but there must have been good reason for this, not the least of which might have been insufficient lighting for them.

Over the years, I’ve often heard audience members complain about not understanding this show. For those of you who love cats and know very little to nothing about this show, this might not be your “thing”. However, if you are up for watching a fantasy about them in which they show off their individual talents in song, dance and gymnastics while wearing way-out feline costumes and cat-like make-up all of which helps to describe their different personalities, then you won’t be disappointed. Also, it might help to prepare yourself by googling the lyrics, at least reading them ahead of time because just to hear them without doing that, you might find yourself confused and continually wondering what they’re saying. It doesn’t help that the names of the cats are so outrageous, but cute (my opinion). Listening to the songs on You Tube helps, too, as I’m doing right now.

That said, we have T.S. Eliot and Andrew Lloyd Webber to thank for jellicle cats singing jellicle songs preparing for a midnight jellicle ball. Look it up. Act I finds all the cats showing off their respective cat selves while giving due respect to Old Deuteronomy, the big ole “King of the Cats” who has lived many lives. Enter the once beautiful Grizabella, the Glamour Cat… old, shuffling, shabby and shunned. So sad. Our jellicle patriarch, by night’s end, will be selecting one of the cats to go to cat heaven to be re-born. Guess who? The cat afterlife is referred to as the Heaviside layer, the outer region of the earth’s atmosphere… named after Oliver Heaviside. What would you do without me?

So what if we know the ending? The cats go through all their nonsense shenanigans in Act II with humor, pathos and a few surprises. The eclectic musical numbers include swing, rock, classical, pop, jazz and more. Old Deuteronomy manages to influence the kittycats to behave themselves and honor Grizabella as she prepares to leave for the Heaviside layer, but not until she sings “Memory”, most memorable for its lyrics expressing hope for each new day without giving in to all that has passed. Hold someone’s hand on this one. Touch someone.

CATS is an excellent show for young people as it lends itself well to discussing the application of the cat characters and their individual cat-onalities to real life and real people. Bullying, ostracizing and being unkind are not options even among cats.

Until the next show…

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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