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Cats on the Prowl

Nampa musical wows audiences

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Whether you live in the capital city or the far reaches of the Treasure Valley, an easy trip to the Nampa Civic Center will take you to an unforgettable production of the famous musical Cats. The producers report there are only a limited number of tickets left for the last three performances.

It doesn't matter if you've seen it in London or on Broadway--or at the Morrison Center with a touring professional cast--there is something about this locally produced show that makes your breath catch in your throat and tugs at your heart strings, while you watch Idaho kids (many of them under 20) turn into cats before your very eyes.

Oh, all right, maybe the pace of the show doesn't have the explosive energy of professional productions, some of the dancers aren't quite the snappiest and the ending can't go through the roof on the way to cat heaven, but the Music Theatre of Idaho presentation captures the spellbinding aura and delicious fun that makes Cats one of the most popular and longest running musicals of all time.

MTI is one of the first community theaters to get permission to perform the unique musical. There's not much plot, almost no dialogue, and constant dancing, so it is a tricky show for an amateur group. Director Dr. Jean Andrews has taken this responsibility very seriously. Anyone who knows Andrews knows she isn't the type of director who says, "Let's paint on cat faces and give a show." In fact, the production has been in serious rehearsal for six months, quite a commitment for any theater, let alone a non-profit small-city company. Choreographer Annie Kennedy has been working with the cast since July.

In Cats, the feline look is a vital element. The basic costumes are unitards--one-piece, form-fitting full body suits, that cover the dancers from neck to ankles. Each was custom ordered in a variety of colors from a company in Georgia, at a cost of $4,500 for 76 outfits, and all the principal dancers have two identical costumes in case of accidents or damage, because the show is such a strenuous one with its fast dance routines. Each suit has a built-in pocket inside its back to hold the microphone power pack, and the unitards were spray painted to achieve the right hue for each cat, and hand painted to add details and distinctive markings. Synthetic wigs were purchased and given a ride in a hot dryer until they achieved the right frizzled look. Then they were teased, trimmed and painted with special florist paints in each individual cat's colors.

As for the show itself, the singing and dancing talent is amazing, the finished costumes are a hoot and the set, placed in a junk-filled alley, offers a cat's eye view of countless places to hide and prowl, such as a giant oven, file drawers, discarded tires and even a BFI dumpster. The night sky is filled with stars and strings of colored lights, as well as a fantastic moon.

The Jellicle cats have gathered for their annual Jellicle Ball, which is when one cat will be chosen to be reborn. (I guess he or she has already used up his or her nine lives.) The leader of the tribe is Munkstrap, portrayed with professional polish, vibrant personality and wonderful singing voice by Chris Brand. The beloved patriarch of the cats is shaggy Old Deuteronomy, performed with powerful authority by Al Ellis, and the clever magician Mr. Mistofolees, who saves the day, is danced with amazing energy and style by Jim Klepacki of Boise.

With a cast of about 38 cats, it's impossible to mention them all, but there are many performances that stand out, such as Grisabella (Kyrie Vickers) and her beautiful rendition of the show's most memorable tune, "Memories."

One delightfully accomplished dancer with an adorable kitten face is the white cat, Victoria, (Amanda Watson), and two stunningly spirited and sensuous dancers and singers in the duet "Macavity" are Bombalurina (Kija Hanson) and Demeter (Kristyn Price). A clever and enchanting dance routine by Rumpelteazer (Taylor Vickers) and Mungojerrie (Taylor Wuerth), as the "cat burglars," involves precise movement and considerable athletic ability. Sleek and sexy, the Siamese cat, Cassandra, is also a standout through the teasing personality created by Shantal Cropper.

The most amazing aspect of the show is the truly feline personality of every character. They slink, wiggle, hiss, claw, rub heads with affection, cuddle, leap and scurry, for all the world like every cat you have ever known. It may be "Method" acting, but they all seem to have immersed themselves in their cat personas.

With the exciting music of Andrew Lloyd Webber, and the fanciful poetry of T.S. Eliot, based on his work, Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, the show soars and swings. Perhaps inspired by this unique material, these young people create a show to remember and a night of magic and music that enchants all ages.

Cats, directed by Dr. Jean Andrews for Music Theater of Idaho at the Nampa Civic Center, 311 3rd St. S. 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 26, 27, 28. Tickets in advance $14.50 adults; $13 seniors; $11 youths. All seats $15 when purchased at door. For reservations: call 468-2385; visit the MTI ticket office, 203 9th Ave. S.; or purchase online at www.mtionline.org.

Questions? Comments? E-mail arts@boiseweekly.com.