University Valletta Campus Theatre (Ex MITP)
When a terrifically good musical like Cats, which Andrew Lloyd Webber set to T. S. Eliot’s poems, is put up as an amateur production, the stakes are high because they match the expectations. With only two songs added to the original set by Eliot, Trevor Nunn’s Memory and his collaboration with Richard Stilgoe on Jellical Songs for Jellical Cats, the musical is famous for its fast-paced, sing-through format and particularly for Nunn’s Memory as well as school poetry favourites like Gus the Theatre Cat, Macavity the Mystery Cat and The Naming of Cats.
Hoi Polloi’s undertaking of such a show has proved to be a successful gamble, reminding the audience just how much fun poetry set to music can be.
Director and producer Marco Calleja put together a very talented young cast while also skilfully managing to play principal narrator, Munkustrap. His creative team ensured that a production of this kind was as professional as it could be, given the limited performance space at the University Valletta Campus Theatre, and they certainly managed to deliver.
The live orchestra led by Brian Cefai gave the right kind of brassy cabaret vibe which makes the piece so unique. Such a show would not have been fully effective without the human to cat transformation thanks to Elvia Leone Ganado’s costume designs, Jonathan Mallia’s excellent make-up and wigs and hair by Michael and Guy.
The direction and preparatory stage work are crucial to this type of performance, so set design by concept artist Gabriella Azzopardi created the perfect alley-way backdrop for Marisha Bonnici’s choreography, led by dance captain Cesca Camenzuli.
Vocal coach Analise Cassar’s mentoring certainly brought the ensemble up to a very high standard, with excellent performances all round. Rachel Fabri was perfectly cast as Grizabella, the Glamour Cat, ostracised by the other Jellicles, and sang Memory incredibly movingly, along with Nathalie Pace’s Jemima, when the latter calls her in with a verse of acceptance.
The strong vocals of Jellylorum (Anita Frendo), Bombalurina (Colette Caruana), Demeter (Gabriella Azzopardi) and Cassandra (Sarah Rossi) held the audience captive with their narratives about Jennyanydots (Kate de Cesare), Macavity (Keith Dimech), Rum Tum Tugger (Francesco Nicodeme), The Battle of the Pekes and the Pollicles and The Ballad of Billy M’Caw. These four young actors’ deliveries confirm how strong musical theatre has become locally as a preferred branch of the performing arts.
De Cesare as the motherly Gumbie cat, Dimech as the Napoleon of Crime and Nicodeme as the suave and dashing Tugger in turn gave very strong performances focusing on characterisation as well as song and dance.
Gilbert Delicata’s controlled baritone in his portrayal of Old Deuteronomy/Bustopher Jones contrasted very well with the infectious energy of the ‘younger’ cats, bringing a sense of benevolent gravitas as a character actor.
Nicodeme’s energy was matched by Bradley Cachia’s fun-loving Skimbleshanks and Jake Curti’s Alonzo, who all had solid solos, while contributing to the chorus in others, along with dancers Tantomille (Sarah Jane Zrinzo), Mr Mistoffelees (Matthew Cilia), Electra (Nicole Cassar), Rumpleteazer (Filippa Gauci), Mungojerrie (Andrew Camenzuli) and Victoria (Pearl Calleja) – the last three giving sharp duet and solo dance performances.
Finally, Jeremy Grech as Gus the theatre cat gave a very apt performance as an old thespian cat reliving his salad days in his narrative to the younger cats. He doubled as Growltiger along with Anita Frendo’s Griddlebone in his recollection of his performance in Growltiger’s Last Stand and Billy M’Caw.
Hoipolloi has undoubtedly managed to create a show-stopping production, which had audience members clapping and singing along to highly enjoyable musical numbers. A definite must-see this theatre season – for the feel-good factor as well as its high production value. I certainly wouldn’t mind going again.
Cats is being staged at the Uni-versity Valletta Campus Theatre (Ex MITP) on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 8pm.
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