Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer in Cats the musical
Tiffany Hone and Brady Cronin in NQOMT's production of Cats. PHOTO: Gary Harvey and Meredith Palmer

There’s no denying Cats is one of the most successful musicals of all time.

It’s West End and Broadway productions have amassed two Olivier Awards, seven Tony Awards, and a Grammy Award; it’s amassed more than $3.5 billion globally; and birthed the idea of the blockbuster musical which paved the way for other smash hits like Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera, The Lion King and Wicked. It’s been staged here in Townsville thrice in the last two decades with the latest production, by NQOMT, selling out before it had even opened. And, in this case, the show lives up to its hype.

Director Rachel Ahern and her talented team of performers and creatives have placed the Jellicle Cats (a tribe of mysteriously mystical felines) into a beautifully reimagined world that is sure to have audiences spellbound from the moment they enter the theatre. The set itself seems to be a living, breathing entity, with beautiful lighting effects making it feel as though it has its own pulse. Em Molloy, Chris Ahern and Damien Jackson have certainly worked their magic in creating this world.

Cats is only loosely narrative driven, written more like an anthology or Who’s-Who of the cats within the Jellicle tribe. The cats are meeting for their annual Jellicle Ball to determine who among them will be chosen to ascend to the Heaviside Layer and be reborn. There’s the thread of a redemption story there, although I’ve always found it all to be quite nonsensical: the show raises more questions than it answers and several numbers could be exorcised with zero consequence, but let’s agree to take this one for entertainment’s value and just roll with it because it is highly entertaining.

With the vast majority of the cast enjoying some time in the spotlight and only getting short opportunities for off-stage respite, the show calls for careful selection of an extremely talented ensemble and does not disappoint. The calibre of singers and dancers showcased here is exceptional, and they’ve been given every opportunity to shine with brilliant choreography by Rachel Ahern and Jane Pirani and Vocal Direction by Morgan Eldridge.

Mark Whittake plays Munkustrap in Cats
Mark Whittaker as Munkustrap in Cats. PHOTO. Gary Harvey and Meredith Palmer

As Munkustrap, the show’s main narrator and a leader among the cats, Mark Whittaker is captivating. Quick, nimble and beautifully expressive, Mark sets the bar high from the very beginning and every other person on stage rises to the challenge.

Shelley Keehn, playing Grizabella, flawlessly delivers the show’s biggest hit ‘Memory’ and if she hasn’t left you with chills by her final number, you haven’t been paying attention.

Jeremiah Pau is titillating and charismatic as the fickle ‘play boy’ Rum Tum Tugger; an unrecognisable Denise Higgins is purely endearing as the good-natured Jennyanydots; and Brady Cronin and Tiffany Hone make the perfect pair as Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer, who will have you grinning like a Cheshire cat. Dane Reid is jaw-droppingly good as Mr Mistoffolees, and you will likely believe he is in fact a real magician when you see the enchanting way he moves. I’d often get so caught up watching to see what Dane would do next that I’d forget to look at everyone else.

Grizabella singing Memory
Shelley Keehn delivers ‘Memory’ the hit song from Cats. PHOTO: Gary Harvey and Meredith Palmer

Mikaela Kelly and Samantha Kennedy both give knock out vocal performances as Demeter and Jemima. Both will leave you wanting more, and Samantha deserves high praise for persevering professionally in the face of some ongoing mic issues, which will hopefully be rectified for the second performance.

A guest appearance by Bill Munro as Gus the Theatre Cat injects Act Two with plenty of heart in what is sure to be a poignant number for anyone even vaguely aware of Bill’s own contribution to our local theatre community.

The featured cats are rounded out spectacularly with the strong stage presences of Brent Lammas (Old Deuteronomy) and Paddy Higgins (Bustopher Jones); infectious joy from Sam Taylor as Skimbleshanks; beguiling dance numbers by Lauren Crosby as Victoria the White Cat; and the sweet Jellylorum and sassy Bombularina, played by Shannon Doyle and Katie-Anne Grice.

Asparagus and Jellylorum in Cats the Musical
Bill Munro and Shannon Doyle as Gus the Theatre Cat and Jellylorum in Cats. PHOTO: Gary Harvey and Meredith Palmer

The chorus cats are equally flawless. Each cat seems to have its own fully-formed personality and everywhere you look cats are consistently pawing, preening and cat napping in character. This characterisation is helped greatly by the superb costumes, hair and make-up. I failed to recognise a number of performers in their cat form because of the incredible transformation they’d undergone; and it is great fun to look at the individual markings and stylings of each cat.

The orchestra, led by Mark Smith, deserves the highest commendation and those in the pit will no doubt be as exhausted as those above it at the end of each show. It’s a delicate and demanding score and the orchestra didn’t miss a beat.

A hearty congratulations to everyone involved in this enormous production. NQOMT’s Cats is a truly delightful show that is highly deserving of its Sold Out status.

NQOMT’s Cats will run until 19 October 2019. All performances are sold out, however if you’d like to be placed on a waiting list, call 07 4727 9797.

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