Reviews | Cats Abridged, Peter Pan​, Disney

The Young People’s Theatre cast of the musical Cats (Abridged). Photo: Emma Van Esveld
The Young People’s Theatre cast of the musical Cats (Abridged). Photo: Emma Van Esveld

Theatre Reviews

Cats Abridged

Young People’s Theatre, Hamilton. Ends August 12.

The staging team, headed by director and choreographer Chelsea Willis, have set this version of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats in a dilapidated children’s playground, where the colourfully dressed and made-up felines can swing, slide and move though holes in the fence, as they sing about their lives at the annual Jellicle Ball. And the numbers in this wholly sung show have engaging variety, ranging from the leopard- and tiger-skinned Rum Tum Tugger’s rocking self-named song to the gentle dignity of aged Grizabella’s Memory.

The clever lyrics are drawn from the verses in poet T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, and, as amusing as they are, the stories about the cats’ lives and relationships with humans show that the writer had an understanding of the natures of felines. And, to my delight, I found this shortened version for young performers, running for about 80 minutes plus interval, more enjoyable than the repetitive full-length show, and appreciated the talents of the 23 members of each of YPT’s two casts.

An early number, The Old Gumbie Cat, for example, has three of the cats singing about one of their number who has that nickname and is also present, with the quartet leading a brisk tap dance at its end. Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat, who travels on trains to help keep them free of mice, moves across the stage during that song as if exploring a corridor. And Gus the Theatre Cat is very actorish in its movements, while amusingly delivering comments such as “I know how to let the cats out of the bag”.

The costumes and make-up are dazzling. The long fawn fur of Old Deuteronomy, the wisest and most aged of the cats, is a sign of his seniority; Bustopher Jones, an elegant cat about town, has, as the lyrics say, “a coat of fastidious black"; and the longevity of Grizabella is reflected in the worn-out look of her all-over-the-place fur.

The appearances and behaviour of the cats undoubtedly reflect the nature of the people they live with.

Peter Pan

Maitland Repertory Theatre. Ends July 22.

WHILE the members of both casts of this staging of J.M. Barrie’s classic story about an ageless flying boy who takes a trio of young Londoners to the magical Neverland are predominantly girls, they show how skilfully well-trained young actors can portray people who are far removed from themselves.

Playwright Craig Sodaro’s adaptation sticks closely to the story, with Neverland housing the Lost Boys led by Peter Pan, the fairy Tinkerbell who helps light Pan’s path, and a pirate band dominated by Captain Hook. Director Leilani Boughton has changed one group, the Indian tribe that includes princess Tiger Lily and combats the pirates, into a Viking female warrior group, and the change works well. The use of bright costumes and make-up to give a fairy tale look to the story supports the use of girls as male characters.

The laugh-filled show includes amusing movements. Tinkerbell, who is usually seen only as a moving light, here is also visible at one side of the stage in what appears to be a mirror frame, with her facial expressions and gestures indicating how she feels about what is happening around her. And a crocodile who is searching for prey literally rocks across the stage to music.

The settings add to the story’s magic, with the nursery occupied by Wendy Darling, the girl who attracts Peter Pan, and her two younger brothers, having a London urban setting visible through the large window where Peter listens night after night to the stories told to the children, and that setting and others are quickly changed to the cave occupied by the Lost Boys, the lagoon-edge territory of the Vikings, and the deck of the pirate ship. The characters also include Nana, the Darlings’ dog which tears Peter Pan’s shadow from his body, leading him to enter the nursery in search of it.  

Disney is a Wish Your Heart Makes.

Maitland Musical Society.

Soldiers Point Bowling Club. July 15 and 16.

The program for this very animated concert-style show featuring songs from Disney animated films lists 19 movies of that type, and at least one song from each is included, with the large singing ensemble and the band having watchers of all ages swinging.

Some of the films, such as The Hunchback of Notre Dame, have been largely forgotten, but the song from that work, A Guy Like You, with three men telling a compatriot that the woman he is attracted to couldn’t fail to like him, shows how engaging the songs used in the Disney works can be.

The show, put together by Maitland Musical Society under the direction of Angie Hutchison-Ussher, includes 28 songs, with the shows ranging from the first Disney animated feature, 1937’s Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs, to the most recent, 2016’s Moana. Two of the six-member band’s musicians, Glen Ironman and Allyn Barett, are also among the 26 singers, and the dancers include a tiny and exceptional six-year-old performer, Charlotte Winkler, who, in red outfit and with lobster eyes above her head, dances delightfully while Under the Sea from The Little Mermaid  is presented by the singers.     

The presentation is certainly far from static, with Ben Starling’s The Bare Necessities, from The Jungle Book, having him carry a tiny strapped bag and moving among the audience children towards its end, handing them small wrapped sweets from it. It’s not surprising, either, that Stuart Ussher, the lead vocalist in Aladdin’s One Jump Ahead, leaps from the stage and makes his way around the auditorium. And amusing actions from Beauty and the Beast’s Gaston, as Guilherme Noronha, playing the title character, and other male singers clink beer mugs to note the self-celebrating nature of the title character, likewise show how much a song can tell people.    

By the show’s end, when the singers deliver Let It Go from Frozen as an encore, it’s not surprising that the audience aren’t in a hurry to do that.