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Alex Reynolds reviews Elf and Cats

Alex Reynolds reviews Elf and Cats

ELF-THE MUSICAL

Heading into the yuletide season, Drayton Entertainment unwraps a musical gift onstage at the Hamilton Family Theatre in Cambridge. “Elf-the Musical” links with “Ho-Ho-Ho” Christmas rituals; decorating the house, trimming the tree, recalling the sagas of Scrooge and Santa Claus, and celebrating the historic origins of the Holy Birth.

The show, which opened on Broadway in 2010, is adapted from the hit 2003 Hollywood comedy showing Will Ferrell suited up in a bizzare green costume. He’s Buddy, an orphan employed at Santa’s North Pole toy shop who’s unaware he’s actually human. Buddy’s enormous size and poor toy-making abilities cause him to face the truth, so his jelly belly bossman sends him to New York to find his birth father (whose busy schedule never allows time for his family or honoring Christmas), discover his true identity, and find the definitive meaning of Christmas.

Faced with the harsh realities that daddy is on the naughty list (a Scrooge attitude that Christmas is a complete annoyance), and his half-brother doesn’t even believe in Santa, Buddy is determined to win over his new family and help the citizenry of New York latch on to the Christmas spirit. This theatre piece is catching on as a modern day Christmas classic prompting audiences to cradle their inner elf. As well, the allure and magic of the musical captivates the wide-eyed munchkins in the audience transfixed by Buddy’s transformation from elf to life existence (the wizardry of live theatre).

Brightly coloured and glowing, the cotton candy plot is easy to digest with dancing feet, humorous antics interwoven with “aw shucks” pathos, innocence and sincerity, and a generous amount of sprightly melodies, particulary “The Story of Buddy the Elf”and “Sparklejollytwinlejingley” which arouse the audience.

This Drayton Entertainment production is boistered by a robust cast led by Tim Porter as the titular fairy tale/human being character. His input renders cheerful innocent mirth.

“Elf:The Musical” is a stocking full of Christmas joy with added good tidings, a welcome respite in these unsettled times. Join the festivities at the Hamilton Family Theatre in Cambridge through January 5. It’s an eggnog heart warmer.

CATS

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical is a feline lovers delight, an eye-catching celebration of costume creativity and make-up. The players are cleverly transformed into realistic facsimilies of actual cats, excluding special effects, without impeding the actors movements. The setting is imaginative as well; a huge junkyard surrounding an enormous truck tire. The saga unfolds with all cats (actors playing their roles using trash props) singing Webber’s British pop and music hall melodies opera style (without dialogue). The spectatcle unleashes audience imagination in appreciation of the staged furry prowlers realm.

The narrative, based on T.S. Eliot’s 1939 “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats”, sets the collection of whimsical poems about feline psychology and sociology from page to a lively vocal and terpsichorean fete. The pussy cats inhabiting the trash heap setting have classic and historic names: Grizabella, the faded outcast former “glamour cat” stirs emotions singing the tear-your-heart-out 11 o’clock number, “Memory”; the sassy magical Mr Mistoffelees looking formally dapper in black and white fur; Gus, the traditional theatre cat; showoff tomcat Rum Tum Tugger; Old Deuteronomy, the group’s wise patriarch; the fancy dressed prancing fat cat, Bustopher Jones; “Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer” a dazzling dance duo, all add to the general fascination of the cat world. The various scenes detail each member’s standing in the hierarchy and spotlighting their character. It’s like a variety show amplifying individual talent and personal interests.

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The assembled kitty kats, the “Jellicles (the name adopted by Eliot), gather for a yearly celebration (“Jellicle Ball”) to select one of their number who will soar up to the “Heaviside Layer” (a sort of cat heaven) to be reborn into a new jellicle life.

“Cats” has lived through nine lives, and still on the prowl. A quote from the lyrics of the closing song explains the simple connection between show and audience: ”You’ve learned enough to take the view, that cats are very much like you. You’ve seen us both at work and games, and learnt about our proper names, our habits and our habitat.”

The reconfigured 2016 revival of this feline fantasy world has appeal to a new generation of theatregoers, while those who loved the original staging (West End 1981, Broadway 1982), will bask in a nostalgic encore visit.

This blissfully meowing, contented purring song/dance cat classic, is on the prowl at the Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto through January 5.

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