The Firehouse Theatre – a gem of the Dallas scene – showcases stunning theatrical might in yet another hit, the award-winning Andrew Lloyd Webber musical ‘Cats,’ directed by Mark Mullino.
This all-singing, all-dancing musical has been translated into more than 20 languages and presented worldwide. As of 2018, ‘Cats’ is the fourth longest-running show in Broadway (18 years) and London’s West End (21 years) history. This December, lucky fans can even view the film adaptation in theaters.
As prevalent and iconic as ‘Cats’ is, it may still seem a bit bizarre watching leotard-clad actors prance on stage, sometimes on all fours, with painted whiskers and fabric tails. Yet, through their quintessentially feline mannerisms, athleticism and grace, we happily suspend our disbelief.
“Live theater is about the experience… Where else can you go and be totally entertained by singing, talking cats?” asked Denise Lee, the Dallas-native who plays the goliath role of Grizabella, the (former) Glamour Cat*. Lee’s Firehouse debut is sensational, especially considering she didn’t join the cast until the Monday before the opening, and, ironically, used to be afraid of cats. Lee will also headline Firehouse’s Curtain Call Gala on September 27, where guests are treated to her smoky, jazz vocals in a ‘jook joint,’ as she calls it, and the program for 2020’s season is revealed.
Set in a dilapidated junkyard, we meet the troupe of domestic cats known proudly as ‘Jellicle Cats,’ and based on T.S. Eliot’s whimsical poems in his ‘Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. The Jellicles enter the Firehouse stage with regal demeanor, making even the dustiest stoop a luxurious throne fit for royalty. The ensemble’s sheer number is a feat in and of itself. Cats spring up from the wings of the auditorium; gazing at the audience with illuminated eyes, alight with mischief.
A luminescent moon shines above, signifying the night of the Jellicle Ball when the wizened cat-leader, Old Deuteronomy, decides which one among them will be chosen to transcend the Heaviside Layer: a mystical realm where one worthy cat may be reborn. Malcolm Beaty plays the part of the sage leader magnificently, with a deep, commanding operatic timbre.
The increasingly ubiquitous Gabriel Ethridge plays the comedic role of Bustopher Jones. We meet the swaggering Rum Tum Tugger, whose rock star flair is fully embodied by Xavier Momjian, and are further entertained by the acrobatic Mr. Mistoffelees, played by the gravity-defying Brandon Baker. We’re enthralled by jazzy routines including ‘Macavity’ and treated to a slew of other expertly executed tunes and dance numbers. Craig Boleman delivers an endearingly bittersweet recounting of his days as a celebrated pioneer in the theater.
As Grizabella, Denise Lee’s bluesy vocals bring a new, dynamic layer to the poignant, emblematic ballad, “Memory,” while still exuding its compelling, harrowing emotion. Her voice cracks subtly, textured with raw feeling, as she reaches ascending heights. She’s literally singing for her life and you hear the agonizing desperation for acceptance, the plea for a second chance; needless to say, having a tissue would be a good idea, even for the most toughened, resilient theatergoers.
“It’s a song everyone knows,” Lee says, noting, “It’s also important to make sure you know what the song means for your character.”
While many melodies have lived what seems like not just nine but hundreds of lives, gracing stages worldwide and the living rooms of countless fans over the years, the talented cast presents lesser known tunes with equal reverence and panache. Complementing the outstanding melodies, of course, is the energetic choreography by Christina Hoth, which exudes feline agility and elegance.
Elevating this production even further, The Firehouse has partnered with Farmer’s Branch Animal Services to bring real cats right to the theater, proving they’re not only an award-winning entertainment venue, but a philanthropic, purpose-driven organization, as well. These enigmatic four-legged companions are adorable, curious, and each one is very much adoptable! Every Saturday matinee during the show’s run, an adoption trailer will be parked at the theater from 1 pm until showtime.
Animal Adoption Center Manager and 14-year veteran of the agency Miguel Gauna explained he and his team are not simply “dog catchers” nor are they “animal control,” but a team of compassionate individuals dedicated to providing a vital service to the community and, most importantly, the animals. “I am privileged to be here and to save the life of an animal,” Gauna said. “We have a 100% save rate for all adoptable animals.”
Take home your own energetic Jellicle for just $20, and adopt a cat which been spayed/neutered, had her first round of shots, rabies vaccination, and many other essentials services performed. Within the first hour of the event’s start, two kittens found forever homes!
‘Cats’ plays until September 22. Tickets start at $14 and can be purchased at the Box Office (972-620-3747) or online. Be sure to arrive at 1:00 pm on Saturdays for the adoption event, and spread the word!
* Firehouse Theatre veteran, Kristal Seid, plays Grizabella September 12th and 22nd.
Cover photo Jason Anderson, Pendleton Photography
N.L.Thi-Hamrick is devoted to all things that bring joy: good food, writing freely, lots of smiles, and pursuing things that make you feel worthwhile.