Based on poetry of T. S. Eliot’s
Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats
Directed and choreographed by Brenda Didier
Music direction by Ethan Deppe
Produced by Theo Ubique Caabaret Theatre
in association with Michael James
At No Exit Cafe, Chicago
Wonderful, in-your-face Cats is a theatrical miracle!
I’ll never question if the folks at Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre can stage a particular show on their 8′ x 20′ stage at the No Exit Cafe! It was impossible to make Cats work on that small stage. Right? WRONG – director and choreographer Brenda Didier used her immense talent and creativity to make her production of Cats a wonderful intimate affair that sings exquisitely and dances zestfully. Her cast of 13 talents both sang and dances Webber’s musical with an exuberance and truthfulness that sure made me think they were indeed cats!
Didier’s Cats is a theatrical masterpiece that begs to be seen and enjoyed more than once. You’ll never get closer to a major dance musical than this one. These Cats win our hearts and thrill us with their quirkiness and dance acumen.
Music director Ethan Deppe’s 5 person orchestra deftly played Webber’s intricate score so accurately, I thought I was hearing the original CD. Deppe and conductor Gary Powell have found a way to play the score aggressively without being so loud as to drown out the singers. This balance sound allowed for natural, not amplified music and singing. What a treat!
From the start, the orchestra and the exquisite Cats-like costumes (Matt Guthier) with wigs by Michael Buoninconto created the proper atmosphere for the Cats to roam. Once we learn about “The Naming of Cats,” we meet the old Gumbie cat and all of her friends all of whom aspire to be the cat selected by Old Deuteronomy to be reborn just before dawn.
Didier deftly has her cast depicting each cat’s personality and idiosyncrasies with body language, facial expressions and, of course, movement, singing and dancing. There all here: Munkustrap (Roy Brown), Mungojerrie/Skimbleshanks (Elliot Burton), Mr. Mistoffelees/Quaxo (Josh Huppert), Old Deuteronomy (Matt McNabb), Cassandra (Shannon Mulvey), Bustopher Jones/Gus/Growtiger (Brian-Alyn Newland), Jellylorum/Griddlebone (Hilary Patingre), Jennyanydots/Jemima (Rebecca Pink, Demeter/Rumpleteazer (Maggie Portman), The Rum Tum Tugger (Tommy Rivera-Vega), Bombalurina (Tiffany Cheris Taylor) and Grizzabella (Sydney Charles).
My favorite Cats would have to be Bustopher Jones and Gus: The Theatre Cat both of whom were amazingly staged by Didier. The terrific Sydney Charles gives an emotionally haunting rendition of the fabulous 11 o’clock “Memory” just before her Journey to the Heaviside Layer.
I can’t rave enough about Theo Ubique and Brenda Didier’s amazingly heartfelt, richly emotionally and quite empathetic production of Cats. It boasts flawless music, deft dancing and it creates an evocative atmosphere that beckons us into the cats lair. We share the wizardry, wonders and warmth of Cats. Get to No Exit Cafe in Rogers Park to experience an astonishing theatrical event!
Be sure to watch the two sample videos from this production below.
At No Exit Cafe, 6970 N. Glenwood, Chicago, IL, call 773-347-1109, www.theoubique.org, tickets $30 – $35, Thursdays at 7:30 Fridays & Saturdays at 8 pm Sundays at 2 & 7 pm (check for special Holiday performances), running time is 2 hours, 20 minutes with intermission, through February 20, 2011
Here is Elaine Page singing “Memory” from the original London production of Cats – enjoy!