Stage Struck Review

Reviews for theater within the greater Los Angeles area.

An Old Friend in the House: Cats at Candlelight

The cast of "Cats" at Candlelight Pavilion


I’m sure there will be arguments from all those folks who lined up time after time to see Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera” so long firmly entrenched at the Ahmanson, but I believe the best post-Tim Rice work for Webber was his score for “Cats.” Yes, it’s equally repetitive, but there is far more consistent energy to the piece, and the music tends toward far greater complexity than the formulaic hit-song-producers which followed.

Of course, one cannot really appreciate the composer’s work on “Cats” unless the production proves entertaining as well: lively, well danced, and at least as intelligible as the first national tour. here in 1985. Fortunately, the newly opened rendition at the Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater in Claremont is pretty close, at least as close as this kind of company could get. On their comparatively tiny stage they have managed the essential elements: solid dancing, energy and pacing, with reasonable voices and attention to detail. At least, that’s what happens most of the time.

The show is essentially a compilation of feline-focused poetry by T.S. Eliot set to music. The plot, such as it is, deals with a gathering of cats all looking for a shot at starting over: at ascending to “the heavy side layer” and returning blessed with another of his or her nine lives. As Old Deuteronomy looks over the possible candidates, various cats introduce themselves and each other, and the mangy Grizabella hovers in the middle distance yearning for her years as the most glamorous of them all.

The Candlelight Pavilion production offers much of what one expects. The dancers are excellent, and though choreographer Janet Renslow’s work is sometimes a bit repetitive, the net result has the appropriate feline quality. Director Paul Hadobas, who appeared in professional productions back when it was comparatively new, has done the hard work of creating 23 individual characters in both movement and interrelationship. The sense of ensemble carries the piece, as it should, over the only vaguely interconnected individual songs.

Among the performers who stand out in the large cast are Neil Dale as both the pompous Bustopher Jones and the pathos-filled old theater cat Gus. Isaac James could use a little more of the Elvis touch in his Rum Tum Tugger, but handles the songs and action well. Robert Hoyt’s rich baritone gives Old Deuteronomy the command needed, and Steven Rada and Rachel McLaughlan work well together (and are among the most intelligible in the midst of their acrobatics) as the nefarious duo of Mungojerrie and Rumpleteaser.

Reece Taylor’s fuetes prove most impressive as the “magical” Mr. Mistoffelees. Chris Duir’s costume is a bit baggy, but he proves otherwise quite satisfying as the mildly officious railway cat Skimbleshanks. Indeed, all of the cast exhudes an essential “catness” right down to small movements when not the focus of attention. All, that is, except Debbie Prutsman’s flea bitten Grizabella. Though she manages the sense of isolation and lost glory expected of the part, she does so minus that essential feline overtone. She’s a woman, with ears, in a ratty fur coat. It means the pathos of her story doesn’t relate to that of the other characters, and slows the impact of what little plot exists.

Still, by and large, this is a fine production. The music bubbles like champagne and the performances show style and consistency. The Candlelight sound system is taxed to the maximum, and occasionally someone cannot be heard due to mic problems, but this is all very fixable. It’s nice to see this show out of mothballs. Better still, at the Candlelight Pavilion you get an attractive meal along with the performance.

What: “Cats” When: Through November 20, doors open for dinner at 6 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays, and 11 a.m. Saturday and Sunday matinees Where: Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater, 455 W. Foothill Blvd in Claremont How Much: dinner and show $48-$68 adults/$25-$30 children 12 and under Info: (909) 626-1254, ext. 1 or http://www.candlelightpavilion.com

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