A near Purrr-fect production from Packemin Youth
My love of Cats is no secret. I know it is one of those shows that you either love or hate, but I’m well and truly in the former category. My love for this show started at a very young age. When I was 11, the dance studio I went to put on a production of Sleeping Beauty that interwove in other musicals. I remember watching the senior dancers rehearse and then perform a version of ‘The Jellicle Ball’ and I was entranced and enchanted. Since then, this show has been very near and dear to my heart and when I’m asked “What is your favourite musical”, I say “If we are talking traditional musicals, then it is Cats”.
So, I was as curious as a cat could be to see how one of the leading pro-am production companies, Packemin Youth, would tackle one of the biggest musicals in the world.
And to say I was pleasantly surprised is a massive understatement. Even though the staging was extremely simple – a u-shaped three-story scaffold set with a large projection backdrop – and the orchestra small – a 10-piece band – and some lighting issues, after nearly every song concluded I had to remind myself I was watching a youth, pro-am production. The notes I wrote during the show consist mainly of ‘wow’, ‘perfect’, ‘spot on’, ‘note perfect’, ‘awesome’, ‘amazing’ … you get the idea.
Like professional productions of Cats, before the show and during intermission, some of the cats roamed through the auditorium, interacted with the waiting audience and played on stage. It was especially delightful to see the reaction of the younger audience members. It also gave you a chance to see the wigs, makeup and costumes up close.
Leaving The Red Wiggle well and truly in the Big Red Car, Simon Pryce (The Wiggles, The Phantom of the Opera) played the senior role of Old Deuteronomy (and the smaller role of Bustopher Jones) to absolute perfection, which isn’t surprising given he has vast experience in this role. He gave the role the gravitas it needed as the leader of the Jellicle Cats with his deep, resonating tones.
Tackling the role most recently performed by Delta Goodrem, Harmony Lovegrove (The Schools Spectacular, Joseph & The Technicolour Dreamcoat) gave a future-major-league star performance as Grizabella. How a 16-year-old can sing ‘Memory’ to absolute perfection still has me baffled!
Noah Gill Mullins (Beauty and the Beast, Les Miserables) was quite magnificent as the elder cat Munkustrap and Josh Ridge (Back to the 80’s, Reefer Madness) bought all the appropriate stautner and attitude to bad boy cat The Rum Tum Tugger. Tugger has always been my favourite cat and my dislike of the new version of his song is no secret. So I was more than pleased to see that Packemin went with the traditional interpretation. Both Mullins and Ridge played their senior cat roles impeccably.
The girl group of Bombalurina, Demeter and Jellylorum were beautifully brought to life by Chloe Malek, Giorgia Kennedy (Hairspray, Legally Blonde) and Katia van Hilten (Camp Rock, 13 The Musical). Their turns as punctuating back up singers and their solo songs gave each of these talented ladies a chance to shine.
From the other T.S. Eliot cats, my other standout performers were Jamie Smith (Back to the 80s, On The Town) and Laura Bunting (Beauty and the Beast, Annie) as the mischievous Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer. They bought these two characters to life exactly as intended and were a pure delight to watch.
In fact, the entire senior cast and ensemble were a sheer and utter delight to watch. All of the major cat roles were cast splendidly and each performer embodied the character of their assigned cat with maturity, grace and accomplished talent far beyond their young years.
The 48 senior and ensemble cast members were delightfully supported by a junior ensemble of over 30 kittens. These kittens performed wonderful supporting roles throughout the show, especially during ‘Bustopher Jones: The Cat About Town’, ‘The Awefull Battle of the Pekes and the Pollicles’ and ‘Shimbleshanks: The Railway Cat’.
A hearty standing ovation and bravo to producer Neil Gooding, director Craig Stewart, choreographer Sophie Gospodarczyk, co-musical directors Peter Hayward and Alex Ash for this simply outstanding production.
CATS – SEASON DETAILS
Presented by Packemin Youth Productions
When: Until January 28
Where: The Concourse, Chatswood (409 Victoria Avenue, Chatswood)
Tickets: Starting from $39.25, tickets can be purchased here