CATS, THE MUSICAL
by B.K. Anderson and
Music by Stephen Smith
October 25 – November 12
$26.75-$69.55 plus sc
Alley Cats is an attempt by some local theatre entrepreneurs to create a big-budget Broadway-style musical from scratch, with big stars, big sound, big heart and big production values. Well, this kitty is in big trouble.
The talent looks fabulous on paper. Led by Broadway veteran Lea DeLaria and former National Ballet star Rex Harrington, the cast also features local musical theatre stalwarts Cailin Stadnyk, Peter Jorgensen, Meghan Gardiner and Denis Simpson, plus veteran actors Simon Webb, Gwyneth Walsh, Patti Allan and Alvin Sanders, with choreography by Jeff Hyslop and a six-piece band led by pianist Bill Sample.
But the material is mediocre, the direction uninspired, the sound system cuts out half the time, and the female lead seems to want to be anywhere but in this show. Even the floppy cat puppets look ridiculous.
The problems begin with the conventional book and lyrics by B.K. Anderson and K.E. Zemliya. The unfocused story takes place in a back alley in some generic city that, in Lance Cardinal’s design, looks a little like New Orleans but seems to aspire to be Vancouver.
Hilda (DeLaria), who owns the block, wants to tear it down to build a Starbucks-style mega-coffee shop. The denizens of the alley resist. They sing about how “there’s love to make and hope to give” in the alley. Various couples pair off. All of them, in the show’s only interesting twist, are gay or lesbian. DeLaria’s cigar-chomping, butch Hilda, for instance, has a Betty Boop-ish girlfriend played by Walsh.
But director Michael Fera does little with the gender reversals except generate groan-inducing sexual innuendo and awkward same-sex kissing and hugging. Kate King dresses half the men in black leather and see-through mesh.
Stephen Smith’s original music and Douglas Macauley’s musical direction are generally uninspired, and surprisingly, with her great, brassy show voice, DeLaria only gets to sing a couple of songs. Stadnyk lights up the stage once or twice, and a second-act number featuring couples Harrington and Jorgensen, Gardiner and Stadnyk nearly blows the roof off. But musical highlights are few.
Harrington plays the owner of the cleverly-named demolition company “Men with Balls.” He leaps and spins across the stage in a balletic self-parody. When the small second-night audience didn’t applaud one of those crosses, he gestured to us to do so.
DeLaria spent much of her stage time commenting on the audience—too small, too unresponsive—and on the quality of show. She regularly broke up laughing, ad libbing her feelings about the quality of the writing (“I didn’t write that joke”), the crew (“Just once I’d like that cat cue to come in when it’s supposed to”), and the band (“Let’s try to do it together”). If this schtick is built into the show, it just doesn’t work. If not, it’s just unprofessional.