Not knowing anything about Pete the Cat until the time neared for the current Children’s Theatre of Charlotte production at ImaginOn, I’ve only recently discovered how profound my ignorance was. For Pete has had way more than nine lives, appearing in over 60 books by James Dean, Kimberly Dean, and Eric Litwin since 2006. Pete has had additional lives in animated videos, a website, a holiday special, an Amazon Prime TV series, and a Christmas special. There is also a puppet, a pen, and I may have come across a Pete the Cat lunchbox. My grandson, not yet seven years old, underscores my past ignorance, having outgrown his obsession with the blue feline before I knew he existed.

In the stage adaptation by Sarah Hammond, originally commissioned by Theatreworks USA and premiered in 2016, Pete gets picked up by a Cat-Catcher, perhaps the first human contact Pete has ever known. This leads to even more human intrusion when Pete is dispatched to his first family. Mee-ouch! This sends Pete into an existential crisis, for he has never been a housecat – or suffered the indignity of being regarded as a pet. Hammond also extends the surrealism of the Deans’ creation. When we first see Pete, he is playing rock guitar and jammin’ with his pals, Grumpy Toad and Gus the Platypus, so it’s a given that this cat can talk and sing. Yet although Cat-Catcher walks on stage at the McColl Family Theatre with a net, she leads Pete off holding his tail. Nor is Pete caged or carried afterwards. He arrives at the Biddle home unescorted and politely knocks on their front door. Undaunted when Dad shuts the door in his face, Pete knocks again.

They’re a bit shocked by Pete’s size, color, ability to speak, the guitar, and those loud orange sneakers, but the starchy Biddles roll with it. Olive, the daughter, is the family member who actually craved the cat, but she discovers that she is allergic to Pete. Overcoming difficulties and fears is very much at the heart of the story here. Mom will need to overcome her impulse to give Pete back because of Olive’s allergy. To cope with her allergy, Olive will need to overcome her fear of needles and shots. Meanwhile, lodging arrangements will be altered and Pete must contend with Olive’s neat freak brother, Jimmy. This is one rigid, super-organized second grader who has no less than 35 rules for his room. This sets up a classic Odd Couple comedy clash between Jimmy and Pete, who not only acknowledges his grubbiness but revels in it.

The zaniness gets wilder the following day when Pete accompanies Jimmy to school, where his elderly second grade teacher, Mrs. Creech, turns out to be a huge Pete the Cat fan. Pete foments a terrible cat-astrophe for Jimmy at school that sends the lad into an emotional tailspin – in essence, because he doesn’t trust himself. Let’s just say that Pete’s ensuing ministrations on Jimmy’s behalf involve a VW bus whose capabilities make Mary Poppins’ mode of transport seem primitive by comparison.

With scenery by Alessia Carpoca and costumes by Kahei Shum McRae, the Saturday matinee was eye-popping to behold and quick moving. Ron Chisholm directs and choreographs this energetic production, and music director Drina Keen has done a fine job in keeping the five-person cast enthused and precise. From the outset, Caleb Sigmon was in the zone of plucky, cheery obnoxiousness that knocks kids out, and you could see that he was having a blast with the rockin’ vocals doled out to him by Will Aronson‘s score – and the dance moves that Chisholm tossed at him. Yes, there was some physical comedy lagniappe for Sigmon to milk laughs from, but he also kept us focused on the absurdity of a blue cat cavorting like a rock star. As Jimmy, the bespectacled Adrian Thornburg was wonderfully nerdy and neurotic, and a big voice lurked behind his big number, “Under the Couch.”

The other three performers had plenty of costume changes behind the scenes, each of them playing four different roles. Ashton Guthrie ranged from the stodgy but kindly Dad to the loosey-goosey Gus the Platypus, and all of Jennifer Poarch’s incarnations had some kick to them, including Mom, Mrs. Creech, Grumpy Toad, and Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa (picture frame included). Be sure to catch Mom strumming Pete’s scratching post. Kayla Piscatelli had the wildest wig as Jimmy’s classmate and the most daunting costume change in her Astronaut cameo, but her most significant roles were as the Cat-Catcher and as Olive. Shunted to the sidelines by her non-allergic neatnik brother, Piscatelli still feasted on Olive’s showpiece, “The Sneezing Song.” Lesson learned, she proudly announced getting her allergy shot. I’m not sure that was before or after Pete and Jimmy let her ride the bus. Things moved quickly in this nine-song, 50-minute musical.

Pete the Cat continues through Sunday, May 5. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.