Kudos for the Manatee Players’ Cats.
By Kay Kipling
For anyone (including myself) who might have entertained doubts about a small community theater’s ability to bring to the stage Andrew Lloyd Webber’s megahit Cats —worry no more. The Manatee Players, under the direction of Thomas Dewayne Barrett, have succeeded in a stellar fashion.
Barrett, who also choreographed (with much inspiration from the original movements created by Gillian Lynne), has played roles in Cats professionally before (and in fact, he stepped in as Skimbleshanks for an ailing cast member the night I attended the play). His familiarity with the show, and his skill at maneuvering 30 fully costumed and made-up felines in believable ways around the Riverfront’s small stage and even out into the aisles, were clear from the show’s opening number. (And yes, there will be cats in your face and maybe even in your lap if you’re sitting in the right spot in the audience).
Barrett is blessed with a highly energetic and talented cast, young for the most part, as the production is practically a showcase for students from Booker High’s VPA and the Manatee School for the Arts. There are performers with more maturity and experience as well, for example Grace Gibbs as Jellylorum and Griddlebone and David A. Walker as Bustopher Jones and Gus the Theater Cat, as well as Marc Lalosh as old Deuteronomy and Growltiger.
The performances are uniformly right on, whether your preference is for the rock star rebel-ish Rum Tum Tugger (Jason Kimble), the playful duo Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer (Michael Foster and Geena M. Ravella), the ailing, downtrodden Grizabella (Karen Lalosh), or the sexy Demeter and Bombalurina (Aly Foster and Heather Kopp), who do a fine job of introducing us to Macavity the Mystery Cat (Ryan Hart). And Manatee Players first-timer Pedro Batista dazzles appropriately as the magical Mr. Mistoffeles, with an impressive execution of flips, leaps and other gymnastic feats.
Walker’s costumes, the cast’s cat makeup, the set and the lighting all contribute mightily to the Cats mystique. While the show itself has never been one of my favorites from the first time I saw it, more than 20 years ago (I crave more of a storyline in my musical theater), I’ll confess that over time I’ve gained a sneaking fondness for it, one that’s increased by the Manatee Players’ outstanding production.
Cats continues through Feb. 10; call 748-5875 or go to manateeplayers.com for ticket info.