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REVIEW: Cool Cats purred at Alnwick Playhouse

Toby Hope and Chris Richardson in Alnwick to promote the forthcoming Youth Theatre production of Cats.

Toby Hope and Chris Richardson in Alnwick to promote the forthcoming Youth Theatre production of Cats.

 

Cats - Alnwick Playhouse Youth Theatre Senior Group (Tuesday, July 9, to Thursday, July 11)

My lasting ‘memory’ of this production was the flawless rendition of its signature song by the exquisite voice of Anna Tucker.

It left me feline good!

Many an artist has tried and murdered Memory, a tune that reached number six in the charts when it was released in 1981 by Elaine Paige.

But boy did Anna smash it! She has such a pure tone that reaching those high notes that most of us would never even dream of attempting was effortless.

As Grizabella, she positively purred, as did, for the most part, a production that is such a huge challenge for a youth group.

I have to lay my cards on the table here and admit that Cats is by no means my favourite musical. In fact, the first and last time I saw it was on Broadway and I hated it! Cats nearly put me off musicals for life.

It does not have a strong storyline, barely a storyline at all, but is a collection of cameos of the different characters in TS Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, a collection of whimsical poems.

The vague thread that runs through the show is of a shunned, grisled, old moggie (Grizabella) who is chosen to receive the gift of immortality and rebirth by the wise one in the Jellicle cat pack.

Typically Andrew Lloyd Webber, Cats is a pastiche of different styles of dance and music.

Let’s take dance to start - there’s everything from modern and tap, to classical and ballet.

Music ranges from jazz to rock and pop to opera and choral. It’s one for Lloyd Webber afficianados.

But the youngsters handled it with such aplomb.

As usual, there were some exceptional performances - notably Toby Hope was assured as the swaggering, rocky, cool cat Rum Tum Tugger.

Lexy Bee danced gracefully and had great stage presence as Jennyanydots, the old Gumbie cat.

Arthur Mills’ enthusiasm was infectious in his dual role as cat-burglar Mungojerrie and the theatre cat Asparagus (or Gus for short).

And Emily Pearse’s strong singing voice shone through in her role as Demeter.

But this was as much a visual feast as anything. The costumes and make-up were superb (well done Judy Tribe) and the way the characters interacted with the audience before the show started and during the performance added authenticity.

For me, the youngsters made a better fist, or paw, of a difficult show than the professionals of Broadway, a tribute to director Cheryl Stewart.

Hats off too to musical director Peter Brown, who played the piano almost non-stop for two hours at different tempos throughout.

More in Thursday’s Northumberland Gazette.

 

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