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Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015

'Cats' is experience for the senses

Thursday, February 26, 2009

I have a theater background.

I've seen a lot of musicals, worked on a lot of musicals, been in a lot of musicals.

While I can say I've been impressed with many of the productions I've seen or been involved in, I had to come up with something else to say about the production of "Cats" I saw this past weekend at Beef & Boards Dinner Theater in Indianapolis.

I was so much more than impressed ... I was blown away.

I'd always wanted to see "Cats," so I was very excited about going. I tried not to get to pumped up, because when I do I inevitably end up disappointed.

Not this time.

From the opening moment of the show when Grizabella, played by Sandy Simpson, stepped onto the stage, I couldn't look anywhere else.

There is very little dialogue in the show, which was written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and based on T.S. Eliot's "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats."

The play is set in an abandoned theater, where the cats in the cast tell stories about other cats as they prepare for the annual Jellicle Ball. At the ball, the leader of the cats, Old Deuteronomy, will select a cat to be reborn into a new life.

I really have to give props to the cast -- seconds into the show I totally forgot they were humans. I honestly bought them as cats. They had the feline movements down pat, from their slinking gaits to rubbing against one another to batting at moving objects.

The stunning, colorful costumes probably didn't hurt in that respect, either. Even if they hadn't been acting so much like cats, the players sure looked like them.

The whole cast was amazing, but of course I had my favorites (as one always does when they watch a stage production). Simpson was perfect in the Grizabella role, and I adored Ty Stover's portrayal of Old Deuteronomy.

But the cats I really fell in love with were Rum Tum Tugger (Andy Frye), Skimbleshanks (Michael Dauer) and especially Mistoffelees (Philip Groft).

Frye's Rum Tum Tugger was just tough and sexy enough to be sensual in a non-lewd way. His delivery of lines and song were perfect.

Dauer's Skimbleshanks was a study in perfectly balanced animation. In a brightly-colored costume of mostly pink, orange and yellow, he never came off as clownish. He was graceful and right on in the role.

But for me, Groft stole the show as Mistoffelees. In a sparkling black leotard, he bounded from one end of the stage to the other, pulling off incredible dance moves without slowing down for a second. He was so beautiful I couldn't take my eyes off him, no matter how many other cats were on the stage with him.

The only musical number I recognized from the show was the standard "Memory," so it was fun hear new ones. They were all performed with flair and passion.

The choreography was amazing. I love a good, fast-paced dance number, and this show was bursting from them from beginning to end.

I also loved the intimacy of the show. Not only were the players on the stage; they were stalking through the audience on all fours and were hanging from the rafters over my head.

The fantastic show was the cap on a night filled with wonderful food and great ambience. The staff at Beef & Boards works hard to make sure patrons have a great experience when they visit.

"Cats" began its run at Beef & Boards on Feb. 12, and will continue through April 5.

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