Meowsa! Grindstone gets its paws all over the sacred Broadway canon: (Thunder)CATS, a Fringe review

(Thunder)CATS, Grindstone Theatre. Photo supplied.

(Thunder)CATS (Stage 18, Luther Centre)

By Liz Nicholls,

In this inspired piece of Cats burglary, the forces that brought us Jason Kenney’s Hot Boy Summer get their paws all over a musical theatre blockbuster that’s had way more than nine lives. As the New York Times ads used to say,‘Cats is forever’. They weren’t wrong, grammatical considerations aside. And that’s more than enough Lycra to reach to the heavyside layer and back.

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Grindstone Theatre’s Byron Martin and Simon Abbott, with Curtis den Otter, who evidently don’t think kitten-size, have created a rumpus of an original musical satire that marries the Broadway mega-mouser musical that everyone in modern society has seen to the obscure (OK, obscure to me) ‘80s TV cartoon Thundercats. 

Who would think of doing this? The sheer lunacy is pretty irresistible, in truth. And the plot Martin and co have concocted — Thunderians fleeing their home planet, hanging out waiting for instructions from the ghost of their leader and choosing a ThunderCat to be renewed, or “re-animated for modern TV” or something — makes at least as much sense as the ‘storyline’ (to speak grandly of something about as substantial as a kibble) in Cats. And probably more. Additionally, it’s a lot funnier.

Anyhow, sense is not what either Cats (conclusion: “a cat is not a dog”), or this cleverly silly musical satire, is after. It’s about singing and dancing, and big ‘80s cat hair and Lycra cat butts. It’s about inventively dropping unmistakeable riffs from the Lloyd Webber Cats cat-alogue, with spiky, raunchy new lyrics. On display are sexy feline moves ramped up (choreographer Sarah Dowling), a big battle, stage fighting with a mystical sword. 

“Limelight, turn your face to the stage light…”  Yup, plus a memorable version of Mammaries from Stephanie Wolfe as the Grizabella of the piece, past her prime time poor thing, “only seen in old re-runs.” Donovan Workun is the much-awaited Jaga The Wise (oh, was that a spoiler?). Kudos to David Son, Owen Bishop, Paul-ford Manguelle, Kristin Unruh, and the unstoppable blue “mechanical cat” Brennan Campbell.  

It’s not easy to parody something that’s already silly; you’ve got to be smart to pull it off. The whole kit-and-caboodle can sing, and they can dance in way that fully justifies all that Lycra. The three-member band, led by Abbott, is hot. This one’s got its scratch marks all over “hit.” An outrage really, in the best possible ways.

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