Fremont overrun by CATS!

by Janet Grant
Tri-City Voice – August 5, 2009

Nestled in the Fremont hills overlooking the twinkling lights of the valley, the Ohlone College Outdoor Amphitheatre basks in the glow of the Jellicle moon. These nights the outdoor stage has been transformed into an abandoned construction site overrun by the most amusing, raucous, sensual, pedantic, magical, and musical cats!

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s mega-hit musical, CATS has swept into town brilliantly staged and presented by StarStruck Theatre. And I mean brilliantly. From Stephen C. Wathen’s amazing multi-level set design, to Vicki Boomer’s stunning costuming, Nancy Godfrey’s inspired musical direction, and the astounding dance routines of Choreographer Jeanne Batacan-Harper and Co-Choreographer Becky Peretti, StarStruck has again outdone themselves. Bravo to Director Lori Stokes and Associate Director Jeanne Batacan-Harper for leading their hard-working, talented young cast in providing an incredible evening of entertainment.

CATS is a landmark of musical theatre. Based on the children’s book of poems, “The Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” by T.S. Elliot, CATS doesn’t really have much of a plot. It is mostly a stunning collection of musical numbers that is visually spellbinding.

On a magical night, the special tribe of Jellicle cats have come together at the Jellicle Ball. At the ball, the oldest of the Jellicle cats “Old Deuteronomy,” will choose which cat will journey to the Heavyside Layer to be reborn. Thus begins the story of song and dance when the various cats either champion one of their favorites or vie themselves for the right to be chosen. Though not much of a plot, the cats themselves are deeply intriguing characters and come in a variety of wonderful flavors.

Benjamin Hall was rakishly wonderful as Rum Tum Tugger who bursts on the scene as kitten heartthrob and electrifying rock star. Estaban Gonzalez was funny and appealing as Bustopher Jones, the aristocratic and quite rotund cat about town. Jennyanydots the Gumbie Cat, aptly portrayed by Kimberly Chatterjee showed just what a saintly feline she was by teaching mice to crotchet. And what a fun number with the toe-tapping insects!

One of my favorites was the mystical, magical Mr. Mistoffelees played by the equally magical Joseph Rivera. His performance was a clever blend of magic tricks and music. Gus, the Theatre Cat played by Connor Stokes brought tears to my eyes with his remembrance of grander days but shaking with palsy. It didn’t stay serious for too long though, the staging of the musical “Growltiger” soon had me laughing with the antics of the “pirate” cats and the caterwauling duet of Growltiger (Lance Smith) and Griddlebone (Beatrice Crosbie).

Jeffrey Oliveira as Old Deuteronomy was at once the old and wise patriarch of the Jellicle clan, but had a warm and fuzzy side to him as well. And of course Natalie Hawkins as Grizabella, the Glamour Cat, had the hollow cheeks of the has been cat shunned by her tribe. I didn’t feel sorry for her too long though, because she had the single most memorable song in the entire show, “Memory.” Her soulful rendition of the blockbuster piece was quite moving.

There were so many more cats that were memorable, from second in command Munkustrap (Drew Williams), to the Napoleon of Crime Macavity (Trevor Meyer), to the beautiful young Victoria (Jenae Childers), to the partners in crime Mungojerrie (Justin Garrett) and Rumpleteazer (Vicky Lopez), to the nimble Skimbleshanks, the Railway Cat (Jordan Aragon).

There just can’t be enough said about all the wonderful and talented members of the entire cast who consistently perform such outstanding theatre for the community. StarStruck is constantly pushing the envelope with each of its productions demonstrating why it is absolutely the very best in youth theatre around.

Though CATS can be an allegory on the human condition, it is still basically a children’s story. One full of magic, memories, regrets, and hope. And don’t forget, lots and lots of cats! It is a visual and auditory delight sure to please even the most ardent dog lover. Don’t miss out. The StarStruck Theatre production of CATS is quite simply, the best ticket in town.

8 p.m.

Thursday, August 6
Friday, August 7
Saturday, August 8
Thursday, August 13
Friday, August 14
Saturday, August 15

Ohlone College Smith Center, Outdoor Amphitheatre
43600 Mission Blvd., Fremont
(510) 659-1319

Reserved seating prices range from $20-$25