By Jody Key — Managing Editor ***Photo Credit — Ben Rose
SANDY SPRINGS – May 13, 2023
The Byers Theater in Sandy Springs won’t have to worry about mice as they’ve been invaded by a clowder of cats for the month of May. Yes, clowder is the term for a group of cats. This particular collection of cats from City Springs Theatre Company call themselves the Jellicles, and have been gracious enough to invite everyone to their very special Jellicle Ball. The ball is a celebration that happens once a year, where one cat is chosen to ascend to the Heavsidie Layer and come back to a new life (Cats do have at least 9 lives you know). This Speakeysie MUST SEE is a mesmerizing masterpiece only in Sandy Springs until May 21st, and tickets are going fast.
This is a show for cat lovers, junk yard junkies, theater nerds, chorus and dance fans…ok it’s for EVERYBODY!! It’s a study of the human condition as seen from the eyes of TS Eliot, one of my personal favorite poets. Taken from his work entitled Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber adapted this work in 1977. With the aid of Sir Cameron McIntosh, the musical opened on London’s West End in 1981 and premiered at Broadway’s Winter Garden Theater in 1982. In the past 43 years, this numerous award-winning show has continued to tour and be performed by regional and local theaters to great acclaim.
As a child of the 80s, I grew up with the soundtrack—Memory was a personal favorite and I adored Betty Buckley. Those of us who remember the TV show Eight is Enough will remember who she is. In 1997, the film version was introduced, and I fell in love with the show even more. My oldest child, Genie, watched our VHS copy before they were old enough to walk, and loved seeing it again and again. I must confess, I’ve never seen a live version of CATS until Thursday night, but I feel so honored to have seen this particular production as it was perfection at its finest!
Two seats in front of me sat a woman wearing a very unique CATS jacket. I spoke to her at intermission after complimenting her jacket to discover she worked on the national tour for over 10 years. She told me she was very impressed with the show, and Baayork’s choreography was true to the original and yet was sprinkled in with some new and inventive elements. She was thrilled to see both Harry Francis (Mr. Mistoffelees) and Caitlyn Bond (Victoria) take the stage. She felt the show was very well done, and I looked through my own misty eyes to see her moved to tears as Grizabella ascended to the Heavenside layer. I enjoyed watching her final reactions as much as I enjoyed my own goosebumps and excitement.
Director/choreographer Baayork Lee brings her special brand of theater magic to Sandy Springs once again. The dancing in this show is graceful and meticulously executed. Baayork is a Broadway legend, best known for her role as Connie in A CHORUS LINE which was based on Lee’s own life. She previously directed SOUTH PACIFIC and A CHORUS LINE for CSTC. At 76 years young, Baayork has an infectious zest for life. She’s a gracious inspiration and loved by everyone she meets.
Baayork was accompanied by a fabulous team: music director Greg Matteson (vocals were on point) and Conductor Michael Duff (I didn’t hear a wrong note at all); Co-choreographer Jacob Brent and Associate choreographer David Grindrod (the dancing was enchanting); Scenic Designer Kelly Tighe; Lighting Designer Abby May (loved the string lights–it was a nice touch); Costume Designer Marilynn Wick (Bravo!! Just stunning); Sound Designer Anthony Naricisco (Maybe one of the most difficult jobs in theater and your execution was exceptional); Wig designer Kayla Bennett (quite an achievement); and Production Stage Manager Shay Holihan (the glue that holds everything together).
Of course, it’s almost impossible to watch this show without getting “all the feels” and shedding a few tears. Jalise Wilson’s Grizabella tugged at my heartstrings, and her rendition of Memory was as powerful as it was haunting (in a good way). She captured the essence and spirit of Grizabella completely and fully. Jalise also happens to be City Springs’s company manager and Artistic and Casting Associate, having also been featured in many ATL productions. She brings an amazing amount of talent to every role she plays.
Another ATL favorite and a personal favorite of mine, Kevin Harry, takes the stage as Old Deuteronomy. His presence always commands the stage, and this performance, in my humble opinion, is paralleled in excellence to his Inspector Javert in Les Misérables at Aurora. Thank you, Kevin, for another memorable performance.
I can’t say enough about Harry Francis’s stunning performance as the Magical Mr. Mistoffelees. He is gifted with dynamic dancing and tremendous stage presence. Having played the part on the international tour, he “slays” (as my theater students would say) in the role and his dancing looks effortless.
Kaitlyn Bond reprised her national tour role as Victoria and my eyes continued to be drawn to her on stage, not just because she’s the only white cat (I once had a white cat named Grindle), but because her dancing is exquisite.
I must also say, “Kudos,” to my two favorite personal cats –Mungojerrie (Steven Etienne) and Rumpleteaser (Alexis Yard). Great job, you two!!
Other key-noteworthy performances included Steve Hudson (Bustopher Jones/Gus), Spencer Dean (Rum Tug Tugger), Noah A Lyon (Plato/Macavity), and Olivia Windley (Silabub).
Put on your cat ears and get your ticket to this show at City Springs before they sell out!
I’m going to close this review with a Key musing. One of my first reviews ever was THE AMAZING ACROCATS produced by Rock Cats Rescue. This is an actual cat circus with the headliner being a band called The Rock Cats. These cats actually play instruments. Founder and Animal trainer Samantha Martin is able to draw on her rescue cats’ natural abilities. Some of her cats’ talents lie in roaming the audience throughout the show. Just like the Acrocats, the Cats in the Byers Theater also roam the audience, so don’t be surprised. I really wanted to reach out and pet them, but I wasn’t in an aisle seat. I’m not sure if anyone has, but it’s awfully tempting!