I THOUGHT I WOULD FINISH WRITING ABOUT CATS BEFORE THE NOOSA LONG WEEKEND FESTIVAL BEGINS. YOU MIGHT NOT HEAR FROM ME NOW UNTIL AUGUST.
ACTUALLY THAT’S NOT TRUE BECAUSE, AS YOU’LL RECALL, WE’RE GONNA’ TWEET AND INSTAGRAM THE HELL OUTTA’ #NLW14
COME UP AND SEE US SOMETIME.
Harvest Rain Theatre Company
Brisbane Convention Centre
July 4 – 6 2014
Reviewed by Xanthe Coward
When CATS first opened in Australia none of the members of this production’s mass ensemble were born. (When it opened in London I *might* have been just born. Alright, I *might* have been in preschool already but let’s not think too long about that).
CATS has been performed in over 20 countries and in over 250 cities.
The song Memory has been recorded by over 150 artists.
1700 meters of lycra and 2000 metres of faux fur were used to create the costumes.
Over 3000 pots of Kryolan make-up were used to create the make-up designs.
The dance floor comprises over 500 pieces weighing over 10 tonnes.
Over 1500 young performers auditioned for the mass ensemble and 800 were chosen.
The mass ensemble rehearsed on weekends for 6 months and the professional cast rehearsed for 3 weeks.
70 individual body mics were used in this production.
There are over 400 lights in the rig and over 400 stage management cues to call.
This is the second largest production of CATS ever! (The largest featured over 3000 cats in London in 2013). That makes it the largest production ever staged in the Southern Hemisphere. I think I’ve finally worked out Harvest Rain’s caper.
THEY ARE AFTER THE NEXT OLYMPICS OPENING CEREMONY GIG
They’ve certainly proved with this super-sized production that they have the team to pitch something!
With more than #800cats on stage in the Brisbane Convention Centre, including a heap from the Sunshine Coast (and you know I know that drive! Well done, Mums and Dads!). At times it felt like we were caught in a musical epic about the bubonic plague, as hundreds and hundreds of cats swarmed into the space, looking for the first few moments more like rats than cats, upon a ship’s deck, which indeed, seemed to be where we were meant to be. That’s right. No garbage heap here. I actually overheard somebody explaining to his companion that the original had been staged on a rubbish heap and I was suddenly reminded that THERE ARE PEOPLE IN THE WORLD WHO HAVEN’T YET SEEN CATS. I KNOW.
I remember the first time I experienced CATS, at QPAC’s Lyric Theatre in 1989 (the Australian and New Zealand tour), in which Trevor Green played Skimbleshanks to great acclaim. We were sitting next to Trevor on opening night of Harvest Rain’s CATS and I thought I noticed the same consternation on his face that I too was feeling during Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat, as the pace began to lag a little. Perhaps it was a trick of the light; Jason Glenwright’s rock star lighting design is a show unto itself! Anyway, what I remember most about that first experience was that the cats actually came through the stalls, purring and climbing all over us! Also, we were allowed on stage at Interval to see the set up close. Unheard of! Years later, Sam played Old Deuteronomy in a local production with Nathanael Cooper as Munkastrap. (Nathanael would probably prefer you didn’t know about that but I’m telling you because he did real GOOD!), and I’ll never forget my first singing teacher, Judy, who wore face paint and cute little cat ears to sing Memory at a closing night party at our place in Buderim. I think it was after a very successful Buderim run of Waltzes From Vienna.
These cats did not disappoint either, settling into various reposes upon the floor and on the stairs at points throughout the show when not dancing, keeping character all the while and delighting patrons with their cheeky grins and fabulously feline characters, upheld by all within my scope at least. Paired with the synchronised moggie moves of over 800 performers, including fifteen or more legit tap dancers, it’s a totes impressive effort!
MD Maitlohn Drew leads a confident lot of cat wig clad musos, and the music, which is usually easy to get sick to death of – c’mon, be real, it is – was actually really enjoyable. I even loved lots of little moments largely because of the music. Mostly, if I’m completely honest, I ACTUALLY LOVE CATS. I love CATS because of Sarah Brightman, Elaine Paige, Macavity the Mystery Cat and RUM TUM TUGGER. Unfortunately, HR’s Rum Tum (Ethan Jones) gave us more Ty Noonan than Mick Jagger and you know I’m a big fan of Ty’s stuff but it has its place, and it’s place is not in Lloyd Webber’s CATS. (WE LOVE YOU, TY!). That’s not to say that Jones disappointed anybody else on opening night – he was a hit! Mungojerrie (Callan Warner) and Rumpleteaser (Hannah Crowther), though a bit breathless, wowed us with their acrobatic song and dance routine and it’s testament to Harvest Rain’s training program that these two – two of the strongest of the core ensemble, along with Munkastrap (Dean Vince), Mr Mistoffelees (Stevie Bishop) and Jennyanydots (Astin Blaik) – are stand outs in terms of their performance flair, energy and vocal and physical prowess. (It should be noted that I felt Jones redeemed himself in his rich contribution to Magical Mr Mistoffelees). CATS is considered a dancers’ show, sure, but it’s a much more entertaining dancers’ show when the dancers can hold a tune and convey character.
Steven Tandy makes a delightful Bustopher Jones and a lovable Gus. Our leading lady of musical theatre, Marina Prior, is an apt choice for Grizabella, giving the famous role a beautiful blend of fragility and fallen grace, not to mention making a pristine appearance in her Wheels & Dollbaby at the after party.
Choreographer and Director, Callum Mansfield has always worked meticulously and he had his work cut out for him on this one – we know that CATS is really the choreographer’s show – and word is that Mansfield started work on this production a year ago. Actually, Mansfield choreographed Harvest Rain’s 2007 production of CATS, at their teeny tiny Sydney Street theatre in New Farm, with Designer Josh McIntosh and Producer, Tim O’Connor. Mansfield was 17 years old. During that original run he’d said, “For a choreographer and dancer, Cats is THE dream gig. It’s athletic, energetic and joyful and it’s a challenge to ensure that the choreography reflects the feline movements of the characters while also communicating with the audience.” He also played Mr Mistoffelees in that production. We can only imagine his horror delight when O’Connor suggested staging the show again but this time, on a much larger scale! This time Mansfield says (and this I LOVE), “…here was my chance to provide 800 young performers with the same kind of opportunity that was given to me. Whether they were eight or eighteen years old, I set out to make this experience an enjoyable journey of music, dance and storytelling that would solidify their passion for performing and help them on their way.”
Mansfield has BOOKS of choreography – I’d love to see those – and this time he engaged two assistant choreographers (Jennifer Miller& Courtney Underhill), and thirty-nine dance captains to lead the mass ensemble in “tribes” of different colours. Wow! And yikes! And it’s because of these sorts of logistical nightmares that no one else comes close to even attempting anything of the size and scale of this production. I’m not even joking about the Olympics’ bid.
I’m actually convinced now that Harvest Rain can (and will) do anything.
Look, if you hate CATS you would still have hated it after seeing this production – just face it, you’re a Hater and not even Harvest Rain’s eight million cute kids in furry costumes can cure you – it’s still a whimsical non-story using the poems by T.S. Eliot in Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, about a bunch of cats with human qualities who come together for the Jellicle Ball, the cat event of the year, akin to Damien Rossi’s Oscars’ party, obviously, during which (the Jellicle Ball, not the Oscars’ party), one cat will be chosen to become elevated to somewhere vaguely above us. Of course that cat is Grizabella, an outcast and set up beautifully to be the underdog who comes out on top, literally, disappearing via smoky scaffolding into the mystical realm of the Heaviside Layer. The tales within the tale are beautifully realised, allowing for the most plot-like non-plot I’ve seen in a production of CATS.
Apparently, without Marina Prior signing on as the Glamour Cat, this production would never have gone ahead, and whether or not her star power has attracted just as many audience members as family members of the kids involved, what it does do is this – it reaffirms Harvest Rain as one of our premiere performing arts companies, giving them the sort of street cred that only Prior’s sort of star power can buy (check out the cast of Spamalot!), and it gives the younger members of the company a legit role model and mentor. Just as those of us who are *slightly older* looked to Sarah Brightman before her crazy-ass experimental pop chart electronica era (I saw her live on stage, y’all. She sang off key), these aspiring performers look to Marina and her industry peers. It’s obviously been such an awesome opportunity, on so many levels, to be part of Harvest Rain’s Wakakirri Creative Generation Arena Spectacular Spectacular Rock Challenge CATS! Congrats, all! I’m looking forward to seeing all your lovely new faces, although perhaps not all at once, on a stage somewhere again soon!