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Tuachan's 'Cats' revival delivers knock-out 'Memory'

Published June 15, 2010 6:00 pm

Stage » Musical revival finds its power in characters' feline physicality.
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Andrew Lloyd Webber's well-loved musical "Cats" doesn't explain why Grizabella (Lisa H. Seegmiller) is chosen to go to cat heaven to be reborn. But after hearing Seegmiller sing the show's trademark, "Memory," in Tuacahn Amphitheater summer staging, it really doesn't matter.

Making her way across stage with a limp, Grizabella is a graying version of her once-glamorous self, who like the other cats, tells her story through song. Seegmiller, a Tony Award winner for her portrayal of Mimi "La Boheme," creates a moment that's beautifully painful in its entirety, turning Grizabella's story into a universal moment of nostalgia and melancholy with a glimmer of hope. Her voice seems to penetrate each word of the familiar lyrics, extracting the core meaning of her plea.

Seegmiller is among several reasons to make the drive to the Ivins Amphitheater and watch a bunch cats sing and dance in an old train yard.

Director and choreographer Derryl Yeager -- who as a dancer performed on Broadway in "Cats" -- has assembled a talented cast of skillful, athletic dancers with equally adept voices. Under Yeager's directorial hand, each cat character has enough flair and idiosyncrasies to show off his or her individual personality. Among the highlights are hip-gyrating, rock-and-roller Rum Tum Tugger (Todd DuBail); mischievous troublemakers Mungojerrie (Thayne Jasperson) and Rumpleteazer (Veronica Yeager); and the magical, tumbling and agile Mr. Mistoffelees (Nicholas McGough).

Yeager's strict pacing helps to ensure the cats stay convincingly in character throughout the show, each conveying graceful, feline physicality. There's something to be said for anthropomorphic storytelling employing an illusive yet domesticated species, and how it works here to create a fantastical, humorous world.

Yeager brings the cats to life through ensemble dances that vary from gymnastic-inspired moves, ballet and jazzy numbers. And it's the songs that reveal the story about the Jellicle cat clan, which meets every year for a reunion at the Jellicle Ball. During the event, one cat is chosen to go to Heaviside Layer to be reborn, and the musical numbers continue as each cat makes his or her case.

Cheyl Yeager's costumes are inventive in conveying each of the cats' personalities. For example, Mr. Mistoffelees, the magical cat, wears a sparkle-covered velour top, while Jesse Factor's bright striped makeup helps complete his feline look.

What this production could do without is Grizabella's ascension to cat heaven in a circus-like mini rocket ship that moves from the stage on a zip line above the audience. It's a touch of comic awkwardness that feels out-of-place in this fantasy.

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Tuacahn presents 'Cats"

This fantasy-filled show offers an admirable rendition of "Memory" and talented cast.

When » Reviewed June 12; plays through Aug. 14 at 8:30 p.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays

Where » Tuacahn Amphitheatre, 1100 Tuacahn Drive, Ivins

Tickets » $17-$56, 435-652-3300, 800-746-9882, or http://www.tuacahn.org

Running time » Two and a half hours, including a 15-minute intermission