Kelrik’s brilliant, boisterous production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cats” proves that a grand musical doesn’t need a grand theater to delight its audience. With colorful and clever costumes and makeup, the show has been distilled to its essence for an intimate space.
Artistic director Erik Austin and director/choreographer Zach Johnson are an ideal creative team. Austin has designed the cats with quirky imagination. Most are dressed in skin-hugging leotards, some of them flesh colored, then decorated with artsy cat marking details, adding furry leg and arm warmers, tails and wild wigs.
With intricate catlike face makeup designed to accentuate their facial expressions, each cat character has his or her own personality.
In the small theater the cats move up and down the aisles now and then, on two legs or four, sometimes stopping by an aisle seat for a pat on the head or somersaulting down the center aisle.
The show has been condensed into about 70 minutes of nonstop, high-energy singing and dancing with a talented ensemble. The set is a junkyard of jumbled objects and various levels for the cats to leap, climb and dance about.
The action hangs on a loose framework of a plot. The Jellicle Cats are gathered for their elderly patriarch, Old Deuteronomy, to choose one cat who will get a new life. Members of the ensemble introduce various cat characters who may be in the running.
Among them are Gus, the theater cat (Larry Kaml), Skimbleshanks, the Railway Cat (Michael Dexter), Rum Tum Tugger, a strutting tom (Travis Nefores), Mister Mistoffolees, the magician (Jeff Larsen), and Macavity, the mystery cat (Evan Camacha). All of these actors are fine dancers, and each has his own style.
Grizabella, a shabby old cat, enters the scene with derision and hisses coming from the cat crowd. Formerly known as the glamour cat, she is in disarray, a sorry sight. Mackenzie Hunt is good as she shuffles about, but excellent as she sings what has become the show’s signature song, “Memory.” She has just the right voice for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s dramatic song.
Old Deuteronomy, dressed in a big, furry coat, is played by George Gorrindo, who has a fine, strong tenor as he sings “The Moments of Happiness.” All of the singing is excellent as Elizabeth Premer, Jill Garcia and others have solo moments, and the choral numbers by the whole ensemble soar in the small space.
The dancing is terrific, with acrobatic moments, some graceful ballet, and lots of high-energy, precision ensemble numbers. Young Nadia Schwartz Bolef and Kate Perello are a lively acrobatic duo.
Kelrik Productions has tapped into the reservoir of talented performers on the Central Coast. Some of the members of the cast and ensemble have professional backgrounds, a number of them are Cal Poly theater and music students, and most of them have performed widely in the many venues in the area. After the show I spoke to a man who had seen “Cats” on Broadway, and he said that this show was just as much fun, especially because of the intimate setting.
“Cats” is a great way to start off the new year — with family entertainment that is guaranteed to have you leaving the theater with a smile on your face.
IF YOU GO
7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Feb. 3
Unity, 1490 Southwood Drive, San Luis Obispo
$14 to $20
543-7529 or www.kelrikproductions.org