The Marriott Theatre presents an encore of the world’s best-loved musical Andrew Lloyd Webber’s CATS. Based on the poems of T.S. Eliot, the shows continue through May 25 at 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire, IL. CATS is directed by multiple Jeff Award-winner Marc Robin with Musical Direction by Ryan T. Nelson.
Since premiering in London in 1981, CATS went on to become the longest running musical in the history of British theatre and the longest running musical on Broadway. In 2003, the Marriott theatre presented a new production of CATS directed and choreographed by Marc Robin, which quickly became the best-selling show in the theatre’s long history. One of the audience’s most requested encores, the Marriott Theatre presents a whimsical, environmental production in which our intimate surroundings bring you closer than ever to the “The Jellicle Ball.”
I have seen more productions of CATS than I care to admit. I must say, this production with a minimalist set which continues into the audience and a beautiful uber- talented cast and choreography nothing short of a 2 hour aerobics class is a visual feast. The lighting design by Jesse Klug is truly extraordinary and the costuming by Nancy Missimi and wigs designed by an army of designers is really spot on. Buddy Reeder’s makeup design gives each actor a very unique character which allows you to invest in getting to know these feline lovelies.
Marc Robin has assembled some of the Chicago area’s finest triple threat talents to star in the show. The show begins with the naming of cats by the entire company. At this time, you are introduced to each character in the company. Marriott has enlisted the talents of one of Chicago’s finest tap dancing comic actresses, Tammy Mader to play the Gumbie Cat, Jennyanydots. She starts out as an obese old cat, sheds her skin, and is transformed into a tap dancing starlet complete with a full chorus of back up dancers. A perfectly executed Busby Berkley-esque showstopper ensues.
We are then introduced to Rum Tum Tugger complete with screaming teen girl cats and the entire ensemble. Jake Klinkhammer really has the moves and embraces his inner Elvis, although I felt his vocals could have been a little stronger. George Andrew Wolff plays the spat and tuxedoed Bustopher Jones with a stuffy English air and oversized costume. His character is one of two roles he plays in the show.
We are next introduced to Grizabella, the glamor cat, a once glamorous show girl, now a mature and shunned outcast of the feline community. This role is played with brilliant detail and commitment by Chicago veteran Heidi Kettenring. Possessing a limp from age and eyes that show her sadness, Kettenring takes complete ownership of this role and delivers. The cats Demeter and Bombalurina played respectively by Alexandra Palkovic and Summer Naomi Smart sing of the sad outcast while flirting with the danger of a cat fight. It is a touching moment near the end of act one.
In contrast we are next introduced to Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer played respectively by Buddy Reeder and Laura Savage. These two tiny framed talents literally aerobicize all over the stage in a tightly choreographed celebration of two of the most fun loving kitties you have ever seen. They maintain perfect harmony while jumping, dancing, lifting, and hanging all over the stage. This was by far one of the finest moments of the show. It clearly brought the house down.
We are then introduced to Old Deuteronomy brilliantly sung by Matthew R. Jones, known for the tour of “Phantom of the Opera” and “Titanic” on Broadway. Jones’ portrayal as the nurturing fatherly center of the cat community was excellent. A role normally sung in a lower baritone, Jones sang the entire role in his beautiful tenor. His voice soared and his nurturing qualities were eminent as he strutted about the stage and introduced the Jellicle Ball. The ball was a truly wonderful and exhilarating moment at the end of act one. The entire company appeared to breathe as a single unit. Every muscle and fiber of each of the dancers was moving as one. It was a joy to watch.
Act one ends with the present day Grizabella singing the iconic song “Memory” to her once young self. This prepares us for the reprise in act two.
In act two we are introduced to the old theatre cat Asparagus(played by George Andrew Wolff), who is affectionately referred to as Gus. He is a mature cat of many years, possessing a muscle affliction. The sweet cat Jellylorum played by Johanna McKenzie Miller tells us of Gus and his career on the stage. In a dream sequence the actors play Growltiger and Griddlebone in a campy and brilliantly executed opera diva segment which showcase the vocal and comic prowess of both Miller and Wolff. These two chew up the scenery in a flawless operatic scene that demonstrates their ability to sing notes from the heavens while performing some pretty hysterical physical comedy.
This brings us to the entrance of Skimbleshanks the railway cat played with great energy by Brian Bohr. He makes his way through the theater aisles and stage on a scooter. Now that is making an entrance. If that isn’t enough we are then introduced to Macavity, played by the muscular Sam Rogers. He is definitely the rebel and it is most evident when he fights with the other cats. The fight sequence is awesome. The vamps Demeter and Bombalurina and the entire ladies chorus sing a torchy rendition of Macavity complete with show girl brassy moves.
Sagiya Eugene Peabody, one of the few non union actors in the show completely embodies the role of Mistofelees. When he makes his entrance he completely captivated the audience with his energy and moves. While other productions have chosen to use pyrotechnics, the Marriott production has chosen lighting to show his magic. Slight of build, he is a bundle of energy and one to watch on Chicago stages.
Heidi Kettenring as Grizabella is now reintroduced in the reprise of “Memory.” She sings a gut wrenching rendition of the song. Her vocal and acting chops give the audience a truly extraordinary moment in musical theater. She is a force to be reckoned with and every muscle in her body embodies the song and its message. Following the song we discover it is her who is going to the Heaviside Layer. In a celebration of her life on earth, the entire theater is filled with joy and balloons drop from the ceiling allowing the entire audience to experience her ascension in to the layer. The entire ensemble embraces the once shunned starlet as it is her who is the chosen one to move onto her next life. Previous productions of CATS chose to have her fly above in a tire. In this production a beautiful lighted stair case lowers from the heavens and each step is lit up brilliantly as she climbs the stairs. Theatre magic at its best.
Matthew R. Jones’ tenor soars in the addressing of cats and the entire company joins in the finale. Additional cast members Liam Quealy, J Tyler Whitmer, Patrick Keefe, William Carlos Angulo, Shanna Heverly, Luke Manley, Melissa Zaremba, Adrienne Storrs, Amanda Tanguay, Ellen Green, Christine Mild, and Andy Planck all add amazing voices and strong movement to the ensemble. Of special note Raymond Interior as Alonzo is clearly the master of balletic turns. He is an amazing dancer and very light on his feet. A joy to watch.
This production of CATS is a must see. If you love the musical see it. If you haven’t seen CATS you must experience this production. It is an environmental production which puts you right in the action. Set Design by Tom Ryan, costumes by Nancy Missimi, Lighting Design by Jesse Klug, Sound Design by Bob Gilmartin and Properties Design by Sally Weiss. The lush orchestra that balances nicely with the vocals is conducted by Musical Supervisor Patti Garwood. The show runs 8 performances a week through May 25. For tickets call Marriott theatre Box Office at 847-634-0200. Visit http://www.MarriottTheatre.com for more information.
Reviewed by John B. Boss