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For feline fanciers, the current Broadway Series South Encore Series presentation of Cats is truly the cat's meow. It features a magnificent multilevel junkyard set designed by John Napier (and reproduced here by Raymond Huessy), an impressive variety of eye-catching cat costumes designed by John Napier, and a lovely lighting design by David Hersey (adapted here by Rick Belzer).
This nifty National Tour of Cats also features a rambunctious cast and a peppy orchestra under the baton of musical director/conductor Jonathan W. Gorst.
This gorgeous Cat's-Eye LLC touring production of British megamusical composer Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber's long-running Broadway hit is big, bold, and brassy in its celebration of the species. Cats received a well-deserved standing ovation at the conclusion of Tuesday's lively opening-night performance.
Cats takes its text from Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats (1939) and other writings on cats by American-English poet and dramatist T.S. Eliot (1888-1965). The show, which was originally staged by director Trevor Nunn and associate director and choreographer Gillian Lynne, was a smash hit when it premiered in London in 1981 and in New York in 1982. Director/choreographer Richard Stafford, who was dance supervisor for Cats on Broadway, has put considerable pizzazz into the current National Tour.
The sumptuous traveling version of Cats now entertaining Raleigh Memorial Auditorium audiences as part of the Broadway Series South Encore Series stars Stan Stanley as The Rum Tum Tugger and Dee Roscioli as Grizabella, The Glamour Cat. Stanley is a regular ball of fire as that playful bad boy; and Roscioli is a poignant picture of downtrodden pathos as a prodigal Jellicle Cat who receives an icy reception when she returns for the Jellicle Cat reunion, beaten down, bedraggled, and obviously down to her very last life.
Roscioli's ringing rendition of "Memory" is a real show stopper; Ryan Jackson cuts a very fine figure, indeed, as the high-stepping feline magician Mr. Mistoffelees; and Martin C. Hurt is cute as Old Deuteronomy, all-wise leader of the Jellicle Cats.
William Hartery gives a hilarious performance as poor old Gus, The Theater Cat, who (despite outside appearances of being at death's door) somehow finds the energy and vigor to reenact his long-ago on-stage triumph impersonating the fierce barge-cat Growltiger, heroic battler against the Siamese invaders in "Growltiger's Last Stand." And Karl Warden is a hoot as the evil Macavity, a sort of feline Mack the Knife.
Dog lovers may disagree, but I think Cats is charming and highly entertaining early Christmas present for Raleigh audiences bewitched and bewildered by this week's Ice Storm. Catch it if you can.
Broadway Series South presents Cats Thursday-Friday, Dec. 5-6, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Dec. 7, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Dec. 8, at 2 and 7 p.m. in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the BTI Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St. $20-$60, except Special Web Offer: $10 off Side-Mezzanine and Lower Balcony seats Dec. 3-8 when ordered online via http://www.ticketmaster.com/. 919/834-4000 or 919/231-4575 (group discounts). http://www.broadwayseriessouth.com/2002-2003/encore.html#cats [inactive 4/04] or
http://www.reallyuseful.com/disp.cgi?page=cats2/main.html [inactive 11/03].