AISLE SAY San Francisco


Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Based on "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats" by T.S. Eliot
Directed & choreographed by Robyn Tribuzi
Presented by Broadway By the Bay
Fox Theatre
2215 Broadway St., Redwood City / (650) 579-5565

Reviewed by Judy Richter

"Cats" has been gracing musical theater stages across the nation and world ever since it premiered in London in 1981 and went on to Broadway, where it won a slew of awards. It first came to San Francisco in 1986 and has returned several times.

Now it's at the Fox Theatre in Redwood City, where Broadway By the Bay is staging an exuberant production. The show is based on "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats," a series of whimsical poems by T.S. Eliot. All of the characters are cats, each a distinct individual introduced through songs by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

The best-known song is "Memory," here poignantly sung by Heather Orth as Grizabella, a once-glamorous cat now long past her prime and shunned by the other cats. The biggest crowd-pleasers are "Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats" and "The Song of the Jellicles and the Jellicle Ball," along with "The Old Gumbie Cat." All three feature terrific solo and ensemble dancing by the energetic cast, while "Gumbie" adds a fun tap scene to the enjoyment.

The show is expertly directed and choreographed by Robyn Tribuzi, who has honed the dancers into a precision ensemble. The only misstep in her direction comes from Jack Mosbacher, who sings well and struts like Mick Jagger but overdoes the pelvic thrusts in "The Rum Tum Tugger."

Musical direction is by Sean Kana, who conducts the orchestra from the keyboards. Even with only eight musicians, including Kana, the orchestral sound is full. Likewise, the vocal ensemble is well balanced even though a few singers seem less accomplished in their solos. Diction is sometimes a problem.

The cat-like costumes and cluttered junk yard set come from FCLO Music Theatre. A few glitches were evident in Michael Ramsaur's lighting design opening night. The sound is by Jon Hayward.

As for the show itself, the plot is thin, while Lloyd Webber's music becomes repetitious, especially in the second act. Still, there is much to admire in both the show and this production, which runs about 135 minutes with intermission.

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