Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by T.S. Eliot, Trevor Nunn and Richard Stilgoe
Directed by Trevor Nunn
Featuring: Giovanni DiGabriele, P J Digaetano, Keri René Fuller, Emma Hearn, McGee Maddox and Brandon Michael Nase
At the Princess of Wales Theatre
Well the Season is upon us and Aisle Say.ca has a few suggestions on how to keep it merry and bright.
Between you and me, I was never a big fan of the musical Cats. The show has a storied history in Toronto that dates back to Marlene Smith’s ground breaking all-Canadian production in 1985 that proved conclusively Canadian theatre programs across the country had trained the emerging talent necessary in acting, singing and dancing that rivaled any other country in the world and could take on any of the blockbuster musicals without having to look abroad for talent. Plus, Smith mounted her production without one cent of public money from the arts councils and showed that not only could she do it with the help of private investors, but that she could make a profit as well!
But the music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, oh dear god. With its hackneyed, clichéd pastiche of compositional styling, I watched and kept asking myself – as we launched into yet another reprise of “Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats” toward the end of the first act – has Sir Andrew ever met a modulation that he didn’t like? How many more rim shots and crescendos can these poor dancers possibly take? But by the intermission, I really had to slap myself upside the head a bit as I looked around in the lobby and listened to the sheer joy of the young people who had obviously been brought to the show by overseeing adults, who had enjoyed their own Cats in their youth and were now giving a younger generation the opportunity to do the same.
Thirty-four years after first seeing this show, I realize now that the Cats phenomenon endures for a reason. Yes, there is the novelty of the playful poetry by T.S. Eliot and the unique make-up, costume and scenic design by John Napier that brings each beloved cat-character to life. But in the end, it is of course the original choreography by Gillian Lynne that still carries this show. Although it has been refined and polished by others over the years, the basic bones of the piece is Lynne’s creation and, if you want my opinion – and I take it you do or you wouldn’t be reading this – her picture ought to appear right beside Lloyd Webber’s on the official Cats website.
The first thing that came to me during the intermission of Cats was how relentless the choreography was in the first act, utilizing the entire ensemble for the majority of the act with its cocktail of twists and turns, jumps and kicks, throws and lifts. Almost as if the choreographer said to her dancers, “don’t ever take your eyes off the audience or they might bolt for the bar,” and so we stay absolutely riveted to the cats who are constantly in motion. The second act allows the ensemble to rest a bit, concentrating more on solo musical numbers and solo dances like the classically derived Mistoffelees solo (a lovely turn here by P J DeGaetano). To put it more bluntly, a choreographer could never put an ensemble through the punishing sequences demanded in the first act again in the second.
Also the space in which the cats do all this dancing is relatively small when we compare it, say, to the ballet. So these folks need to get to know one another really well. One false move and you poke a finger in someone’s eye, elbow the dancer next to you in the stomach or kick somebody in the crotch.
The only really quiet moment in the first act is toward the end when Grizabella (Kerri René Fuller) enters for her first rendition of “Memory”. All is quiet and reverent. By the time she returns in the second act for the eleven o’clock number and belts the tune to high heaven in a reprise, we are ready to bow down and pay great respect where respect is due. The storied tune that Webber composed (with Eliot’s poetry adapted by Trevor Nunn for the lyrics) was originally written for another show but it found a home in the junkyard ballroom used by these friendly felines. The number has all of the heft and beauty of a great aria (Nesun Dorma comes to mind having just seen the COC’s rendering of “Turandot” this fall) and the audience rewards the singer accordingly with prolonged applause and shouts of brava.
The show runs at the Princess of Wales in Toronto until January 5th and will then sit down in 31 cities across North America in the coming months including Ottawa’s National Arts Centre March 10 – 15th.
This production of Cats is purrrfect. Don’t miss it.
Also, as part of the Mirvish series now playing at the Ed Mirvish Theatre, is the musical, Anastasia, based on the films by the same name. This “believe it or not” story about the fall of the Romanov dynasty entertains, especially by way of the sub-plot involving a declassed count, a conman and the aid-de-camp to a certain empress dowager. As I say, the history part you can believe or not believe as is your choosing.
Music by Tchaikovsky
Choreographed by Tatiana Stepanova
Presented by the Toronto International Ballet Theatre
Featuring Anastasia Stashkevich and Vyacheslav Lopatin, principal dancers with Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet.
At Meridean Hall for two shows only, Saturday December 14th at 2pm and 7pm
If you would like to try a new NUTCRACKER, this year you might want to check out one of Tchaikovsky’s most famous works about a young girl’s magical adventures on Christmas Eve, by way of the Toronto International Ballet Theatre, which pairs some of Tchaikovsky’s most beloved compositions with world-class choreography featuring guest artists Anastasia Stashkevich and Vyacheslav Lopatin, from the world-renowned Bolshoi Ballet, which will showcase their aerial and spirited dancing supported by over 50 local emerging ballerinas. This production is being advertised as the only company showing the original Russian story of The Nutcracker in Toronto.
It comes at a time when the Bolshoi itself is refashioning some of the classic pieces they have carried in their repertoire for years such as Alexei Ratmansky’s recreated version of “Giselle” that has been widely applauded by dance critics internationally.
LIL’ RED ROBIN HOOD
Written by Matt Murray
Directed by Tracey Flye
Featuring: A J Bridel, Michael De Rose, Eddie Glen, Sara-Jeanne Hosie, Lawrence Libor, Robert Markus and Daniel Williston
A Ross Petty Production at the Winter Garden Theatre
I’ve been getting great enjoyment out of the annual Ross Petty panto at the Elgin-Winter Garden Theatre over the past couple of years. Last year’s version of the Wizard of Oz had Dorothy campaigning for greater awareness around issues like climate change and bullying. In the end, she decides to run for political office against the likes of right-wing politicians such as Doug Ford. Two years ago, saw Ebenezer Scrooge conspiring to commodify and personally own every aspect of the Christmas season!
This year takes a look at cut backs to our educational system (just as teachers are striking in real time!), income inequality and the complicated relationships people get into when they try to redistribute the wealth and prosperity of — all that stuff – you get the idea!
Running through January 4th at the Winter Garden Theatre.
A WESTON CHRISTMAS CAROL
Based on the classic Christmas story by Charles Dickens
Presented by Shakespeare in Action at the Artscape Weston Common
Featuring the award winning Weston Silver Band
December 10 through the 12th.
Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol remains the most produced show in Canada and the U.S. every year. Every community it seems has its take on this always timely classic. In my own community of Weston, I recently took great pleasure in seeing one of the first productions in the newly built performance space that is now part of the Artscape Weston Common.
The reading included five talented SIA actors who were introduced by interim artistic director, David di Giovanni and included Zika Nyarady, Gugun Deep Singh, Myque Franz, Eli Hamm and Amanda Cordner. The guest cast member the night I saw the show was local MPP Faisal Hassan who did an outstanding job as well!
Members of the equally outstanding Weston Silver Band included Neal Andrews (Cornet), Katherine Moffat (Cornet), Alex Chan (Tenor horn), Aubrey Kelly (Trombone), Ian Feenstra (Tuba), Michela Comparey (Tuba) and Adam Taylor (Percussion).
I’ve seen quite a number of Carols over the years and this one (to paraphrase Dickens) was as good A Christmas Carol as any good old city knew, or any other good old village, borough or town in the good old world!