Monday, July 1, 2013

Broadway Rose: Cats Done Right

The Cats ensemble at Broadway Rose.

By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker

There are people who love Cats (we refer, of course, to the musical, not the wee beasties), and there are those who do not. Prior to Friday night’s opening at Broadway Rose, we would have placed ourselves quite firmly into the latter group. As we left the Deb Fennell Auditorium, we realized that although the Broadway Rose production had not magically transformed us into Cats fanatics (sorry, Mister Mistoffelees), it had definitely reinforced our love for this marvelous theater company. Irrespective of our perhaps narrow-minded perception of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s enduring classic, the current Broadway Rose offering is simply spectacular.
The show features vibrant costumes and makeup.

From the moment the lights came up, we knew we were in for an extraordinary evening – the lighting and set are breathtaking. Musical director Eric Little has outdone himself: the vocal ensembles are the best we’ve heard this year, and he conducts the first-rate orchestra with unerring control, even when the score is at its most strident. The imaginative and vibrant costumes and makeup added color and life to the stylized junkyard setting.

Some of the Portland area’s best dancers strut their stuff.
Sarah Catherine Wheatly and Joe Thiessen perform a scene. 
Director Lyn Cramer has assembled a solid cast of singers and dancers. Some of the strongest performances are delivered by several Broadway Rose veterans, who show surprising skill as dancers in addition to the vocal prowess we have come to expect from them. The most memorable song in the show, of course, is “Memory,” and Amy Jo Halliday (Grizabella) delivers two very distinctive interpretations. In Act I she gives the number a soft and wistful tone, while her much louder Act II rendition reflects her desperation at the losses that come with aging and the threat of dying. Norman Wilson (Skimbleshanks) is impossible to miss – he provides key support in practically every ensemble number, and his big solo, “Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat,” is a show highlight that gives this talented actor a chance to display his amazing voice and agile footwork.

Sara Catherine Wheatley (Jellylorum), last seen at Broadway Rose’s New Stage reprising her role as Patsy Cline, proves that she’s much more than just a country singer with “Gus, The Theatre Cat,” a haunting and evocative number. While most of the show’s nearly non-stop dancing is derived from ballet, modern, and jazz, Wheatley (with fellow performers Ecaterina Lynn and Megan Misslin) adds sparkling variety with a lively tap routine in “The Old Gumbie Cat.”

Few musicals rely as heavily on dance as “Cats,” and some of the Portland area’s best dancers are brought together for this show. In a production where standout performances are the norm, special recognition is still merited by Don Kenneth Mason (Munkustrap), Sarah Shelton (Jennyanydots), Christopher Patterson-Rosso (Growltiger/Rumpus Cat), and returning veteran Scott Cherry (Plato/Macavity).

It was clear from their enthusiasm that the opening night audience was heavily populated by Cats fans who were delighted with this superb production. Undoubtedly many who entered as Cats doubters left the theater as true believers, as evidenced by the rousing standing ovation at show’s end. We strongly suggest that you buy your tickets soon.


The Broadway Rose production of Cats is playing at Tigard’s Deb Fennell Auditorium, 9000 SW Durham Road, through the 21st of July.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful show. I have seen "Cats" in London, Los Angeles and Portland. This was the most enjoyable - a small intimate setting with a great sound system and out standing set, dancing and music. I was blown away. What a great accomplishment and what a great venue to experience musical theater.