Plus: New in film
Richard Stafford may have a dog, but he could also speak of owning “Cats.” After serving as dance captain and playing featured feline Skimbleshanks on Broadway in the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, this veteran out director-choreographer is now helming its North Shore Music Theatre revival. (It plays through September 1.)
“I have seen it [the show] from both sides [as performer and director],” Stafford explained to Bay Windows. “Having learned the show and known the rigors of it, I can empathize with what [the cast] is going through.” Indeed, “Cats” is second nature to Stafford. “I was the supervisor for the Broadway and touring productions for many years,” he added. “I’m really faithful to the original [Broadway staging]. “
So it says much that Stafford was very satisfied with Anthony R. Phelps’ scenic design for the show’s focal alley and the second act evocation of Growltiger’s ship. “I feel as though [the alley] is very detailed for North Shore.” As audiences will see after intermission, “We have something [a large steering] coming up from the center of the stage.”
The famously long-running show has enjoyed more than nine lives: including substantial runs in Mexico City, Buenos Aires, Rio and Copenhagen. “It’s the mystery of the feline world that keeps it alive,” says Stafford of the show’s enduring appeal. Yet Stafford also has a knack for keeping the look and the movement of that mystery remarkably fresh and eye-catching. With virtually no plot, save for the rehabilitation of ragged former glamour-cat Grizabella, “Cats” essentially depends evoking the enigmatic charms of its title creatures: especially in the show’s snappier second act. Stafford has clearly fired up the show’s large cast (representing, as always, diverse feline breeds) so that individual, duet and ensemble numbers share a very high caliber of form and synchronization.
As should be the case in a strong revival of a show that is driven by the transformation of its performers rather than by plot and character development, the strong cast members compellingly abandon their human characteristics for their respective cat roles. They slither, swagger and mark out their individual territories. Choreographer Stafford keeps their kick lines, combinations and turns as sharp as his direction. Even theatergoers who feel this musical is overrated (and this cat-loving critic, owner of two indoor American short hair siblings, has been one of them) should find much that is delightful about this production.
There are several standouts in the crack cast. Lucas Thompson, standing in for Ian Parmenter as Munkustrap, delivers crisp phrasing. Katy Blake as Grizabella brings real pathos and stirring emotion to the score’s one great number, “Memory.” Bronson Norris Murphy smoothly moves from frail veteran actor cat Asparagus’ reflections on the theater and his long career to a vivid evocation of one of his famed roles: that of cocky pirate adventurer Growltiger. Trent Armand Kendall brings the right blend of paternal attentiveness and age-tested wisdom as Deuteronomy. Ryan Koss as mischievous Mr. Mistoffellees, bringing arresting speed to his one leg turns, makes the number named for him a true showstopper. All cast members, moving quickly through the North Shore Music Theatre aisles, make the energy and agility of their characters palpable throughout the production.
Kendall Smith lights the alley and the experiences of the various cats with poetic nuance. With this production, Stafford and company make a “Cats” that simply purrs.
North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly presents Cats through September 1. (978-232-7200 or nsmt.org.)
Cate Blanchett tackled the part of Blanche Dubois, arguably the greatest role for women in American theater, in a 2009 Brooklyn Academy of Music revival of gay playwright Tennessee Williams’ masterwork. Not surprisingly, Woody Allen has Blanchett playing the emotionally torn, Dubois-like title protagonist of his strong new film “Blue Jasmine.”
Allen has written a clever variation on “Streetcar” in which forlorn Jasmine seeks haven in San Francisco with her Stella-recalling sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins). Here Bobby Cannavale plays her Stanley-like love Chili with striking sadness. In contrast to Blanche’s back-story, which included a suicidal gay young husband, Jasmine’s involves a crooked and womanizing spouse, Hal (Alec Baldwin). Gifted Blanchett makes Jasmine’s precarious hold on reality as compelling as the illusions she employs with Mitch-like new love Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard).
Years from now filmgoers will speak of Jasmine as one of the great characters of modern film, and a character that owes a great deal to the brilliance of Williams’ “Streetcar” at that. Allen’s finest effort in recent years, “Blue Jasmine” has the moral weight of “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” the rich sibling characterization of “Hannah and Her Sisters” and the inspired humor and absurdities of “Annie Hall.”
Seen at: West Newton Cinema, (617-964-8074). Also playing at Coolidge Corner Theatre, Brookline (617-734-2500 or Coolidge.org).
If you are intrigued by the power of the human voice, “In a World…” will have you judging it in a different light. As a filmmaker, writer-director Lake Bell may not break new ground with this absorbing tale of a father-daughter vocal war and amusing exploration of voice-overs and the people who perform them. Still, Bell has a good ear for dialogue and appealing warmth in her portrayal of Carol Solomon, the novice daughter competing for trailer work with her voice legend father Sam (played with rich chutzpah by Fred Melamed). As Carol, Sam and young upstart Gustav (high-energy Ken Marino) vie for a voice-over gig for a fictional quadrilogy called “Amazon Games,” Bell makes some telling points about women, men and their often very different voices and points of views.
Seen at: Coolidge Corner Theatre, Brookline (617-734-2500 or Coolidge.org).