Thursday, December 8, 2011


Katelyn Mullen as Grizabella and Matt Rush as Old Deuteronomy

in the Sharadin Bigler Theatre's production of "Cats"

Jellicle Cats are Talented Cats

I’ve seen productions of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical “Cats” before, usually in large theaters, on a proscenium stage. Sure, the dancing was heavenly, but I was always, somehow, held at a remove from the action. I couldn’t quite connect with the stories of this varied group of cats vying for a chance to be reborn.

But the delightful production now prowling the Sharadin Bigler Theatre stage made a “Cats” believer out of me. Because this intimate theater space allows the cat characters to have more direct interaction with the audience, I was immediately drawn into their feline world. They brought the poetry of T.S. Eliot's "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats" the source material for the show to life at Wednesday night's preview performance.

You’ll see some fantastic dancing in the show – by turns mesmerizing, energetic, eye-popping and sexy. But it the acting and singing talent of this cast that made me see this show as so much more than a dance-based entertainment.

I heard some terrific singing coming out of those feline faces during Wednesday night’s preview performance. And the cat characters were clearly connecting with each other, and with all the audience members with whom they were making up-close-and-personal cat’s-eye contact all evening long.

With everyone in a feline costume, under that kitty makeup, it takes a special troupe of tomcats to make that kind of individual connection with the audience. And this SBT production is blessed with just such a special group of performers.

Kudos to them; this is truly an ensemble show, in which many of the feline characters get their own moment to shine in the spotlight. Their characterizations will surely amuse you, thrill you and move you.

Kudos to director/choreographer Kristin Pontz for a beautifully staged and choreographed production. Kudos to acting coach Rich Repkoe and musical director Derek Martin for helping this talented cast add depth to the production. The pit orchestra sounded great, as well!

A salute, too, to the designers, technical professionals, costume, makeup and props teams, who’ve enhanced the action of this show with an interesting set and great effects. Future audience members: Keep your eyes peeled while you’re watching this show. You never know when a cat will be prowling on a platform right above your head, ready to cozy up to the side of your theater seat.

My advice: Get your tickets to the Sharadin Bigler Theatre production of “Cats” now. Once the word spreads about the quality of this production, you don’t want to be left out in the cold this holiday season!

The show opens tonight (Dec. 8), and runs till Dec. 23.

Visit, or call 733-7966, for tickets. And check out the Blue Ridge Communications preview video for the show!

-- Mary Ellen "Merv" Wright