In entertainment, as in many other things, you generally get what you pay for. CATS-Eye LLC’s national tour production of "Cats" in the Blaisdell Concert Hall is a perfect example.
The last time Honolulu saw "Cats" was as a local theater production almost five years ago. The Army Community Theatre show had some exceptional performances, but in reviewing it we said: "The gap that can exist between a cast of paid full-time professionals and a cast of theater enthusiasts who must also work full-time day jobs has rarely been more evident."
» Where: Blaisdell Concert Hall
» When: 7:30 p.m. today, 2 p.m. tomorrow, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday
» Cost: $35 to $70; kids half-price for 6:30 p.m. Sunday show
» Info: 591-2211 or (808)745-3000 or visit www.ticketmaster.com
This "Cats" is well on the professional side of the gap. The male cats lift their partners with effortless grace. The big ensemble numbers are performed with uniform precision. No supernumerary felines clutter the stage. And when that certain cat — we’ll omit the name so as not to spoil the surprise for anyone who’ll be seeing "Cats" for the first time — finally goes to the Heaviside Layer, the trip involves more than climbing a scaffold and waiting for the lights to go out.
Even more remarkable is the fact that on opening night several key roles were played superbly by understudies.
And so, Honolulu got to see Nathan Morgan (Old Deuteronomy) presiding with commanding gravity as the God-like patriarch of the group. Morgan got Act II off to a strong start with "The Moments of Happiness" and brought the show to a powerful conclusion with "The Ad-Dressing of Cats."
Kevin Zak (Skimbleshanks) radiated personality as the cheerful and energetic railroad cat, and Larry A. Lozier Jr. (Macavity) exuded malevolence as the ruthless master criminal cat.
No announcement was heard at show time about the understudies but no one was shortchanged by their performances. "Cats" lives up to expectations on all counts.
Chris Mackenthun (Mistofflelees) received spontaneous applause in the middle of his big number and was charismatic from the moment he appeared on stage. Matthew Taylor (Rum Tum Tugger) seemed at bit subdued at first but soon hit his stride as the bold and brassy, irrepressible and frankly sensual member of the group.
Other members of the regular cast also give spot-on performances. Erica Leigh Hansen (Jennyanydots) is delightful as the "old gumbie cat" who leads a troupe of tap-dancing cockroaches. Will Porter (Mungojerrie) and dance captain/understudy Allison Little (Rumpelteazer) sparkles with personality as the mischievous "cat burglars."
Bronson N. Murphy (Asparagus/Growltiger) and Laura Cable (Jellylorum/Griddlebone) are sweet and poignant in "Gus: The Theatre Cat," then broadly comical as the stars of "Growltiger’s Last Stand," a parody of opera and 19th-century melodramas.
Jordan Dunlap (Victoria) are breathtaking in her Jellicle Ball solo.
Kathryn Holtkamp (Grizabella) plays the dying but unbowed "glamour cat" as a study in fading strength and grim determination. For her, "Memory" is both a requiem for long-lost glories and an expression of the pain of going on when there is nothing left to live for. Heidi Giberson (Sillibub) also sings "Memory" — and in their performances we experience the juxtaposition of one life coming into its own with another approaching its end.