There’s a pack of feral felines roaming the streets of downtown Naples - or at least the stage at Sugden Community Theatre. The Naples Players KidzAct production of Andrew Lloyd Webber classic "Cats" plays through Sunday - and audiences owe it to themselves to take a whiff of this catnip.
"Cats" never had much of a plot - kittens in a junkyard waiting for the dawn - but it exploited T.S. Eliot's poetry, Webber's lush, thundering score and bounding, leaping imaginative choreography to run for 7,485 shows on Broadway. It is fun to watch, listen to and to perform - and every ounce of that comes through, even at the dress rehearsal I was invited to watch.
Co-directors Dawn Lebrecht Fornara and Charles Fornara, both professional alumni of "Cats," mold the raw clay of their young charges' energy and enthusiasm into something amazing. Yes, they lack the polish that comes with a lifetime of ballet and dance training. No, that doesn't really matter. These are "cats that cannot be ignored" and those fifty-six young people pour their hearts into the performance.
What the show does best is capture the magic, the mystery and the savage power and wonder that embodies "Cats." The seven-minute opening number, "Jellicle Songs For Jellicle Cats," pounds with excitement - legs kicking, tails whirling and fur flying. It sets the tone for a show that - much like a feline - teases, tantalizes and reinvents on the fly.
Joe Federico's hyper-sexual Rum Tum Tugger - dressed in leather and chains - sneers, leers and moans all "about it." Chris Campbell's Mungojerrie and Megan Faulconer's "Rumpleteazer" are indeed a high-flying and acrobatic "notorious couple of cats," right down to the trademark double-windmill cartwheel. Comic touches highlight Johnathan McCann's Bustopher Jones number and a yapping Pekes and Pollicles battle with an oh-so-adorable collection of younger "kittens" - younger KidzAct performers.
Fans of the bouncier "Cats" numbers won't be displeased by a rippling, thumping "Skimbleshanks," with fancy feline Michael Rubinton, as well as tapping tabby Jennyanydots (Michelle Ritter) and dancing diva Julie Jewett as a female Mistofolees.
Colby Frank nearly steals the show as Asparagus/Growltiger before he's forced to walk the plank. Fur flys when Ricci Prioletti's Griddlebone raises hair, tails and eyebrows. Tori Hendry and Jenna Canfield lend saucy depth to to "Macavity," while Matt Striegel brings ponderous weight to Old Deuteronomy. As for the show's trademark song, Mary Mitchell's rendition of "Memory" won't soon be forgot.
For Sugden habituees, try to identify which pieces of the set came from past productions. And know this - cast members applied their own Jellicle makeup.
Cast members will mingle with the audience in character during intermission. Photographs are allowed ONLY during intermission, NOT during the performance.
I'm singing Jellicle songs for Jellicle cats. E-mail me, firstname.lastname@example.org.