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Average Rating Given : 2.16667
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REVIEWS

CATS - The Musical, by T. S. Eliot, music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Another View from the Hot Tin Roof
Saturday, October 4, 2008
2.5
Okay, I know this is risky, but I’m curious after reading the Forum thread about Blackwell blocking reviews for “Cats” and then reading the “comment” which suddenly becomes a review. Curious, yes, then again, we all know the price cats pay for curiosity. Nevertheless, it did motivate me to attend Friday’s performance, so here goes:

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cats” is not on my list of favorite shows. Musically and lyrically, it is repetitive, redundant, repeats itself over and over…and is repetitive. Its lasting appeal is as a dancer’s show. That presents a challenge for productions of “Cats”—particularly community theatre productions, and it is a factor here. Blackwell’s “Cats” has a hard-working and earnest cast, but they are not great dancers. To watch a dancer’s show cast with singers who are not uniformly good dancers is like watching your child’s dance recital. Cute, an “A” for effort, but the spark, snap and appearance that true dancers have is missing.

So what’s good about this “Cats”? Costumes and make-up, for one. Well done---colorful and individual (the only mis-step here was Grizabella). Some very nice voices among the cast. The small band was excellent, especially the young man who played multiple instruments and the onstage violinist (Feline on the Roof?). Bravo. Perhaps the director should not have placed the band in the audience, in front of the actors. Although, there were times they could have been louder to cover the sound of the dancers’ feet during dance sequences. Another plus was the backdrop with interesting lighting effects.

What didn’t work? The opening sequence of crudely edited cat-themed songs. That idea, with full-length songs, would have worked better as pre-show music while the house was being seated. It really was not clever enough to open the show. Having to sit through that and then pretty much repeating the moves during the overture/opening was tedious—twice.

The show’s momentum came from the choreographer—and choreographing “Cats” is a mammoth job! There was an obvious, abrupt change to the show’s pacing when the actors were not dancing. Cat movements were all the same (one could say, “repetitive”), Acting 101. There wasn’t a whole lot of character driven cat-movements—just generic slinking, ear-batting, head butting, scratching (must have been time to change the flea collars) —and some very tenuous, suspenseful splits (will she make it?... splat…she’s down! Is she alright? Yes!...Oh, thank God)

The choreography was creative, but very seldom did the cast have to dance in unison and the few times they did lacked the visual punch of a tight dance group moving with perfect precision. Timing and angles were off and individuals were constantly pulling focus away from the group.

As for lighting, there were too many times when center-stage was brightly lit, but the cats were over to the side, singing, dancing and acting in the dark. Were they directed to do that? The darkness was not atmospheric, it was just dark. The theatre itself was kept so dark you had to use the Braille method to find your seat. That darkness made the cats who ventured into the audience just a little too “haunted house” creepy.

Set design: Using an abandoned carnival midway (instead of the traditional junk yard) was creative, but the set looked haphazard, improvised, lacking true design—too much set for too small a stage. The idea of oversize set pieces, which gives the cats size perspective, was not consistently carried through and missed its intended purpose.
Fewer set pieces, properly proportioned, would have allowed the cats more room—on a very small stage—to dance.

Two performances in particular fell short: Rum Tum Tugger and Grizabella: Rum Tum is written to be a virile, masculine Tom-cat, and that requires more than just pelvic thrusts. This Rum Tum moved about the stage with a lot of exaggerated sashaying, swishing, and the pouty expressions of a cat on a high fashion runway. Unfortunate choices. Maybe it was that humongous fur collar he was wearing. Watching Rum Tum, in his sweaty, unflattering onesie, complete with thrusting pelvis, favor an unfortunate front-row audience member with a lap dance was embarrassing.

Grizabella was slow-moving and decrepit to the extreme. Even aging glamour cats can show a bit of the old diva style, flair and sparkle. Her “look” was far beyond old—she looked like a serious addict on the prowl for the next hit. Her entrances were interminable as she shuffled, limped and hobbled to her center-stage mark, with inexplicable hissing and spitting from the other cats. Is she so old and decrepit that she has no "memory" of grand entrances? And her entrances were always the same. Why couldn't she talk and sing as she moved? Her delivery of the song everyone waits for, “Memory”, was a disappointment. Her chest voice did not have the range to accommodate the high notes, forcing her to switch to a weak, breathy head voice at the song’s climax, leaving this frustrated audience member a victim of “vocalus interruptus”. Could the musical director not have helped her by lowering the key?

Is this production “better than most community theatre productions”? No, not by a long shot. But it is one of the better shows from Blackwell. Cute, “A” for effort, but lacking some essential spark and snap—and missing opportunities to give a decent cast a production which achieves potential excellence.

Will Rogers Follies, by Cy Coleman, Betty Comden, Adolph Green
Will's Folly
Saturday, May 12, 2007
1.0
It's always admirable to set the bar high for yourself--as Blackwell Playhouse does with "Will Roger's Follies", but you also need the wisdom to know when you're out of your element, and Blackwell is galaxies out of its element with this show.

First off, if you don't have the cast to carry off a show, find another show. If you don't have the singers and musicians to support a big musical, plan a non-musical. Blackwell's "Will Rogers Follies" contained almost every aspect of the worst kind of community theatre. The sound was particularly lacking. Singers sounded unsure of their pitches and sometimes seemed to be in a different key than the pianist. You could see dancers thinking hard about their movements and counting to themselves. The pianist was adequate (and I understand he came in at the last minute, so kudos to him). However, the sound coming from the stage, both instrumental and vocal, was extremely weak, with no presence, style or energy...a fatal flaw in a musical.

The set was fine and costumes were often impressive, particularly "Ziegfeld's favorite"--though the vinyl chaps were extremely cheesy, and why was the mature gentleman wearing an ROTC uniform in the finale? Lighting left a bit to be desired--lots of shadows where there shouldn't have been. Choreography was not bad--and the hand-jive number, taken from the original production, was well-rehearsed and executed--a major kudo to the cast for this. It was one of the few moments when the show came alive.

As for casting: Mark Owen was a likable Will Rogers and certainly had a Will Rogers quality to his performance. But he didn't truly take command of the stage and show vocally--singing or speaking. Sad, because the potential was there--his director should have given him far more help with that. Great job with the rope tricks, though! Amanda Pickard, as Will's wife, tried hard and obviously is comfortable onstage, but her singing seemed forced and her performance was frantic, almost desperate. The show's director, Rob Hardie portrayed Will's father. He's a very strong actor, but a weak singer, and the inadequate sound spotlighted that weakness. Will's six sisters were certainly funny, with the addition of the male-in-drag-sister, but a bit sad that one of the highlights of a show is a man in drag. The chorus sure tried hard, but the very wide range of ages, sizes and abilities in the chorus made it painful to watch. Choruses, whether they be vocal or dance choruses, need vocal power and precision to justify their presence in a show and grab an audience--and though this chorus tried hard, the power and precision was not there--with the exception of the hand-jive number.

But thank God for Colleen Hargis, "Ziegfeld's Favorite". Perfectly done, full of energy, grace and presence. You could almost hear the audience whisper "thank God" every time she strutted or sashayed across the stage. Brava, Ms. Hargis.

The direction of the show did not reflect a knowledge of energy, movement and momentum-- those things which make a musical entertaining. The direction seemed to consist of telling the actors which step to sit on. Once again, thank you Ms. Hargis, for what little direction the show had came from her role as choreographer.

Ticket prices for community theatre shows keep creeping up--and Blackwell Playhouse's "Will Rogers Follies" falls far short of giving the audience its money's worth and justifying the increasing expense of a night at the theatre.

Fiddler on the Roof, by Book by Joseph Stein; lyrics by Sheldon Harnick; music by Jerry Bock
"Fiddler" Hits Most of the High Notes
Saturday, May 21, 2005
3.0
“Fiddler” is one of those war-horse musicals produced by countless companies to varying degrees of success. Audiences often come with pre-conceived notions of past productions, good and bad—and directors and actors are challenged to present well-worn classics in new and fresh ways. JTS’s production is impressive. The theatre itself is a wonderful venue and the director makes excellent use of the space. A beautiful, functional set enhances the production and there are many other fine aspects to this production—the smooth choreography, the use of puppets in the dream sequence, the accompanying instrumental ensemble--including the onstage fiddler, and a most competent cast—some of Atlanta’s best actors fill the supporting roles. The cast's standouts were the daughters and their suitors. I especially enjoyed Rachel Bodenstein’s Chava—her characterization was beautiful as was her dancing. Her second act scenes with Tevye and her solo were among the evening’s highlights.

The two leads were somewhat puzzling. Agnes Lucinda Harty is obviously a most talented actress/singer but seemed much too young for Golde—especially in her scenes with Bruce Evers’ “Tevye”. To this reviewer, Mr. Evers seemed to deliver a somewhat one-dimensional performance in a curiously flat tone of voice—surprising from a Shakespearean actor. That, combined with the very quick pacing of the show, sometimes left the audience out of much of the humor which is Tevye. Perhaps Mr. Evers was attempting to avoid knock-offs of past Tevyes, but he missed the mark in Tevye’s view of life and his conversations with the Almighty, which need a bit of a wink to both the Almighty and the audience—and the heartbreaks of Act II seemed to leave him unaffected. Once again, perhaps that was due to the quick pacing of the show.

Still, in all, an impressive production of a music theatre classic. I will certainly look forward to future productions of JTS.

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