A Melbourne based writer who is a travel junkie, dedicated foodie and emerging photographer.
A fresh production of the Andrew Lloyd Webber favourite
Twice each year, the Young Australian Broadway Chorus (YABC) puts on a stage production, which provides talented young performers (including those participating in the YABC training courses) with stage experience. The current production is CATS, the well known musical with the score written by Andrew Lloyd Webber, and based on T.S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats.
The cast of the YABC production of CATS
I saw a professional production of the same show a few years ago, and walked away a little underwhelmed. It wasn't so much the quality of the production, more the widely discussed lack of plot.
The official version of the storyline is that once each year, a group of cats (the Jellicles) come together to see the senior member of the cat crew - Old Deuteronomy - announce who will be chosen as the 'Jellicle cat'. The selected cat ascends to 'Heaviside Layer' and returns with a new life. In the lead up to the big announcement, we are introduced to a number of the cats in the group - accompanied by some singing and dancing. It's a thin premise for a musical.
As I walked into the National Theatre I wondered if the YABC could help me overcome my slightly negative attitude to the show. Within a short time of taking my (aisle) seat, I was interacting with a 'kitten' - one of the younger YABC performers. She was beautifully made up, and taking the role very seriously. It was an engaging experience.
The interactive aspect continued throughout the performance, with cast members regularly spilling into the aisles.
As you can see from the first image, there is a huge cast in this production - more than 85 if I'm counting correctly from the program. From the moment the show commenced, what came through was the energy and joy of the cast. This was a troupe that could pick up the audience, and take them on a ride... and they did it brilliantly. This, I thought, was how CATS SHOULD be performed.
With such a large cast, it's impossible to give credit to all who deserve it. For me, there were a few standouts.
Harrison Dart as Old Deuteronomy displayed a maturity (and voice) that belied his age in performing this demanding role. He skilfully projected a convincing version of an 'old' cat, including a rich tone to his voice which was well suited to the role.
The role of Grizabella, again, is a difficult role for a performer. It not only requires the performer to nail the hit song 'Memory' and to act as an ageing cat, but also to act with pathos as the marginalised member of the group. Suzannah Bourke was most impressive in the role, tackling all these elements seemingly with ease. She has the sweetest singing voice, which gave me goosebumps.
Suzannah Bourke as Grizabella
The enormously physical role of Mr Mistoffelees was carried off with aplomb by Declan Ahern. He appears to have a skill range that would give him access to any number of theatrical roles and he surely has a bright future.
Declan Ahern as Mr Mistoffelees
Finally, an honourable mention too to Kristen Robertson as Jennyanydots. It was a fabulous rendition of the role, exuding all the joy the role deserves, and, I'm sure, bringing a smile to the faces of everyone in the audience.
Kristen Roberston as Jennyanydots
The choreography throughout was brilliant. It would be a difficult task to coordinate the moves of such a large cast, but choreographer Jacqui Green did it beautifully.
The lighting in the show was a standout, and the orchestra first rate. The orchestra is hidden away from the audience during the performance, and the music was so well performed, it didn't occur to me that the musicians, too, were young. This group of 15 musicians, aged 15-19, was outstanding.
This was a thoroughly enjoyable performance, and the standing ovation the performers (and musicians) received at the end of the show was well deserved.
Definitely a more positive experience than my previous viewing of CATS!
CATS plays every day until Saturday 25th January. Session times are: Monday - 6.30pm, Tuesday to Saturday - 7.30pm, with a matinee performance at 2pm on Saturday 25th January.
The running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes, including interval.
Tickets are priced from $38.50 to $49.50 (plus booking fee). You can buy tickets online by clicking here.