Spokesman Stage Review: A ‘Cats’ newbie sees Civic’s complex display of Jellicle Ball

When I spoke with director Jake Schaefer to preview Spokane Civic Theatre’s production of “Cats,” he said the musical is “a gigantic production.”

Having never seen “Cats” before, I only had general information about the show, yet I still understood what he was talking about.

The show features a large ensemble cast, most of whom are on stage for nearly the entire show; costumes need to be realistically catlike yet also allow the performers to move comfortably; the show is often described as one of the hardest to choreograph, with an 11-minute dance number near the end of the first act; and the props need to be, in the literal sense, larger than life to really sell the human performers as cats in a junkyard.

To pull off such a gigantic production, Schaefer, the cast and crew needed a go-big-or-go-home mindset, as in big effort and big talent. As can be expected from Civic, both are present in its production of “Cats.”

The sung-through musical features music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, which was based on a book of poetry by T.S. Eliot called “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.” The show centers around a group of cats, called the Jellicles. Together, the cats must decide which of them gets to be reborn into a new Jellicle life via a trip to the “Heaviside Layer.”

Audience members who arrived early had extra time to take in the incredible set by scenic designer Peter Rossing. Typical junkyard fare, including pallets, newspaper, gardening pots, egg cartons, a kite, a lamp, a basketball hoop backboard, an ironing board, a suitcase and a dryer littered the stage, creating the playground on which the Jellicle cats would host their Jellicle Ball. Only each element was, as Schaefer previously mentioned, on a three-to-one scale, truly towering over the actors on stage.

The cast clearly put a lot of work into their catlike physicalities, slinking across the stage or gracefully lounging next to the giant set pieces. Actors held their hands, or rather, their paws, out with a slight bend in the wrist instead of straight fingers, gesturing to each other as a cat might lift a paw. Some performers even kneaded the stage when they were on the outskirts of a scene, yet still on stage.

With a show like “Cats,” one that truly relies on every member of the cast, it’s difficult to highlight just a few performers, but Clio Tzetos (Victoria) and Julia Pyke (Grizabella) commanded attention every second they were onstage.

Josh White and Ruby Krajic added such brightness to the show during their number, “Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer,” and Taylor Wenglikowski and Karlin Marie Kahler were a strong duo – vocally and dance-wise – each time they appeared onstage together as Bombalurina and Demeter, respectively.

Jonah Taylor made for a solid Munkustrap, the show’s main narrator, and Daniel Renz’s scenes as the rebellious Rum Tum Tugger were a lot of fun to watch, especially his brief dance with a member of the audience. In their scenes, Jean Hardie as Old Deuteronomy and Kim Berg as Asparagus showed why they’re local theater royalty.

The cast as a whole should be applauded for tackling the variety of styles choreographer Bonni Dichone threw at them, from ballet and tap to contemporary and Broadway, with ease. The music too was just as diverse, but it was nothing music director Henry McNulty and the orchestra couldn’t handle.

Part of the silliness of “Cats” is the performers are clearly humans dressed as cats, but Jamie Suter and her team of costume and wig designers helped suspend disbelief for a bit with costumes that allowed the performers to move but also gave them some feline personality, diverse enough that each cat could be identified but not so completely different that the performers clashed visually.

With such a complex show, both on and off stage, I’m sure the cast and crew noticed little things here and there that they want to improve for future performances, but as a member of the audience, I was delighted to be invited, in a roundabout way, to the Jellicle Ball and an evening with the Jellicle cats.

If you need a reminder of just how talented the theater community is in the Inland Northwest, you need to make your way to the Jellicle junkyard.

“Cats” runs through June 16 at Spokane Civic Theatre. Tickets and more information available at spokanecivictheatre.com.

If You Go


When: Now through June 16. 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Performances at 2 p.m. on May 25 and June 15.

Where: Spokane Civic Theatre, Margot and Robert Ogden Main Stage, 1020 N. Howard St.

Cost: $20-$40. Tickets available at spokanecivictheatre.com

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Article by Azaria Podplesky

Photos by Ryan Wasson