Update – now extended through Jan 20th!
This show’s the cat’s meow!
|Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre i/a/w Michael James presents|
|Music by Andrew Lloyd Weber
Book/Lyrics by T.S. Eliot
Directed and Choreographed by Brenda Didier
at No Exit Café, 6970 N. Glenwood (map)
through January 2 | tickets: $30-$35 | more info
Reviewed by Paige Listerud
How to take a mammoth Broadway production and shrink it without sacrificing dramatic quality or big, broad, showbiz appeal? Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre accomplishes that transformation with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats, under the lively direction and choreography of Brenda Didier. Didier’s collaborations with Theo Ubique’s Artistic Director Fred Anzevino bore fruit last spring with their Jeff award-winning production of Chess (our review ★★½). Well, it looks like Cats is poised to pounce on the holiday theater season and swipe all the public’s attention.
Whittled down to two hours and only 13 actors, Theo Ubique’s production is a model of economy and stagecraft. But, rather than going along with the old “less is more” meme, it seems Didier’s modus operandi is to give the audience more with less–driving her exuberant cast to make immediate, intimate and vivid connections with the audience while precisely mixing dance elements to build excitement and evoke huge emotional response. Her gamble pays off—Broadway excitement achieved on a stage 8 feet by 22 feet. In the whirlwind of musical numbers, it’s a wonder none of the dancers bump into each other or fall off the stage.
Naturally, it helps to have a super-tight ensemble orchestra under the direction of Ethan Deppe. They are the train that drives this production. Every other layer of theatricality has been preserved as much as possible. Costumes (Matt Guthier, with Michael Buoninconto on wigs) and makeup (Izumi Inaba) maintain the big, Broadway tradition while Michael Narduli’s lighting design reinforces the magic evoked by orchestra and cast. Even the old-fashioned Christmas lights circling up above the stage imply a magical setting to the audience enjoying dinner before the show.
Opening night’s energy started a bit slow. Beginning with T.S. Eliot giving his poetry to a girl in a white dress with a blue satin sash, the initial introduction of “Jellicle Cats” came off a touch stagy until “The Rum Tum Tugger” (Tommy Rivera-Vega) gave the audience a bit of Brando-slash-Elvis for us to remember him by. “Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer” (Elliot Burton and Maggie Portman) boost the proceedings with a ton of delightful play and buoyant energy. The cast’s build-up to the entrance of Old Deuteronomy (Matt McNabb) really sets the element of magic and mystery; McNabb’s elegant tenor voice certainly confirms his mystical authority among the Jellicle Cats. At the introduction of Grizzabella and the first round of “Memories,” Sydney Charles delivers an unmistakable depiction of feral abandonment and alienation.
Cats’ theatricality truly soars in the second act. Growltiger (Brian-Alwyn Newland) and Griddelbone (Hillary Patingre) nearly bring the house down with the lush gorgeousness of “The Siamese Italian Aria.” Costuming goes the extra mile by donning the enemies of Growltiger with elaborate Thai headdresses and tunics and the women of the company really get their Siamese on to take out Growltiger. Burton gets a chance to shine again as “Shimbleshanks: The Railway Cat” but his triumph is really the cast’s in their coordinated build-up to the number’s complex and colorful finale. By the time Old Deuteronomy must select the cat that will go on to live another cat life in “the Heaviside Layer,” the audience has become heavily invested in this alternate world and the logic by which it exists. In fact, so long as the music and dance keep going, we might never want to leave.
Theo Ubique has put another feather in its cap (or should I say “cat on its lap”?). Hooray for them and lucky for us to get this furry, magical and whimsical dream against the darkening winter ahead.
All photography by Gary Ward of G. Thomas Ward Photography
The Cat Pack Ensemble
Roy Brown (Munkustrap) is making his Chicago theater debut. Theater Credits: Over the Tavern (Eddie), 2007 Allstate HS Production, Les Miserables, 2008 Allstate HS Production, Parade, Edith Stein (Franzy), Jesus Christ Super Star (King Herod/Apostle Philip), Children of Eden (Noah), Pippin (Pippin), Into the Woods (assistant stage manager). Education: AMDA NYC. Special thanks to all my family(s), the fellow felines, and anyone and everyone who gave me opportunity or taught me something, whether regarding to performing or in life.
Elliot Burton (Mungojerrie, Skimbleshanks) is a St. Louis native and proud to make his Theo Ubique debut in Cats! He is currently pursuing a BFA in Musical Theatre at Columbia College Chicago where favorite roles include Goldberg in LaChiusa’s The Wild Party and Leaf Coneybear in Spelling Bee. He has choreographed senior directing projects Happy End and Spring Awakening. Elliot would like to thank Brenda for this opportunity, as well as friends and family for their amazing support.
Sydney Charles (Grizzabella) is very excited to be part of an awesome cast in this fabulous production of Cats! Sydney Charles is a music education/theatre Masters student at Vandercook College of Music. She enjoys singing and dancing and finds the challenges of a live show thrilling. Sydney also enjoys feeding all birds, except pigeons, and was even a door-to-door saleswoman once, so it’s very likely you slammed a door in Sydney’s face at one point in your life. She would also like to thank her parents for not laughing at her dream to pursue acting.
Josh Huppert (Mr. Mistoffelees, Quaxo) is absolutely THRILLED to be making his Theo Ubique debut with Cats. Currently, Josh is understudying Marriott Theatre’s TYA production of Wizard of Oz. Past credits include: Spelling Bee at Metropolis PAC , High School Musical at Drury Lane Oakbrook, Spelling Bee at Pheasant Run, and Beauty and the Beast at the Ordway in St. Paul, MN. Much thanks to Brenda, you’re a doll, and I adore you, The D’s, the Barnes’, and Mom.
Matt McNabb (Old Deuteronomy) is ecstatic to be making his Theo Ubique debut! Matt received his B.A. in Theatre/Music from National-Louis University in Evanston. He most recently appeared as Ziggy in Side Man at Metropolis. Special thanks to Fred, Brenda and Ethan for this tremendous opportunity! Matt has also created several cabaret evenings and concerts for the Zion Conservatory of Music and is a composer, recently presenting his first one-act opera, More Coffee, Less White Trash.
Shannon Mulvey (Cassandra) – no bio available.
Brian-Alwyn Newland (Bustopher Jones/Gus/Growltiger) is a native of Guyana, South America. Credits include: Jim (Big River), Booker T. Washington (Ragtime) and Tom Collins (Rent). Newland attended Appalachian State University and The Chicago College of Performing Arts. He is a proud member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity and Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia. Brian-Awlyn thanks God everyday for his amazing blessings, family, friends, and mentors for their loving support. Thanks to everyone in the cast and on the production team. For more info visit: www.brianalwynnewland.com
Hillary Patingre (Jellylorum/Griddlebone) is a 2009 BFA Musical Theatre graduate from Ithaca College. Credits include: Celeste 2 in Sunday in the Park with George (Porchlight Music Theatre), the Therapist in Erika’s Wall(The Music Theater Company), Claire in Eighty-Four (Collaboraction’s Sketchbook Series X), Wendy in It Could Be Any One of Us (Steel Beam Theatre), Emily in A Christmas Carol(Steel Beam Theatre) and Martha in 1776 (Cider Mill Playhouse). Favorite college credits include Nurse Nancy in A New Brain, the Therapist in Metamorphoses and Pam in The Full Monty.
Rebecca Pink (Jennyanydots/Jimima) has always been told that at some point she would do Cats, and here she is meow. Rebecca was most recently seen in the Chicago area at Theatre at the Center in Jesus Christ Superstar (Apostle) and Footloose (Urleen). She has also appeared with the Artists’ Ensemble Theatre in Murder Center Stage (Saunders) and Nickel and Dimed (Holly). Thank you for coming and for your continued support of the arts.
Maggie Portman(Demeter/Rumpleteazer) – Maggie’s Theo credits: Fritzie in Cabaret with Jeff Award nomination for her choreography. She received the Jeff Award Non-Equity for Actress in a Principal Role in 2009 and 2010 for Eva Peron in Evita and Florence in Chess. Other favorites: Porchlights’ Assassins (Squeaky Fromme) and Ragtime (Evelyn Nesbit). She co-owns Li’l Buds Theatre Company www.lilbudstheatre.org. Check out their original holiday musical Frosty Shakes N Dogs playing at Greenhouse Theatre! Thanks to Family, Nate, & my friends.
Tommy Rivera-Vega (The Rum Tum Tugger)is so thrilled to be making his debut with Theo Ubique! Born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Tommy is a senior musical theater major at North Central College, Naperville, IL. His favorite credits include: Aida(Dancer/Ensemble), Bailiwick Chicago; Pippin(Leading Player), Cats (Mr. Mistoffelees) and Romeo and Juliet (Balthasar) at North Central College. “Thanks to my family, friends, Carin and Brian for supporting me, and helping me get where I am.”
Emily Rogers (Victoria) is thrilled to be onstage with such a talented cast and crew. A native Chicagoan, some of her favorite roles include: Snow White in Snow White and the Seven Drag Queens and Puck in A Midsummer Nights Dream: A Queer Tale. She thanks Christa, Maxi, her ever-growing family, her felinity coach Shady, and her better half Adam Veness. Life to the everlasting cat!
Tiffany Cheris Taylor (Bombalurina) is excited to perform with Theo Ubique in Cats! Tiffany recently graduated from the Musical Theatre program at Roosevelt
University, where she played the role of Nickie in Sweet Charity. Tiffany has also appeared as Lady Larken in Once Upon A Mattress, Cosette in Les Miserables and Belle in Disney’s: Beauty and the Beast. She thanks her family and fiancé for all of their support and love, and she gives all the glory to God!
Creative Team and Crew
Brenda Didier (Director/Choreographer) is grateful to Fred Anzevino for this opportunity! Ms. Didier is a freelance director/choreographer, owner/director of the Lincolnshire Academy of Dance and its award winning dance companies and a multiple Jeff Award and After Dark Award recipient. Thank you to Ethan, Andrew, Jim, Ben, Rachael, and the incredible design team and talented cast for your collaboration! Love to Mike…”This is for you Mom- Thanks for taking me to see Cats for the very first time!”
Ethan Deppe (Music Director) is happy to be back with Theo Ubique after working on Man of LaMancha, Taming of the Shrew and The Lady’s Not For Burning. Chicago area credits as a composer, music director and/or instrumentalist include productions with Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Drury Lane Theatres, Bailiwick, White Horse Theatre Company, Boxer Rebellion, Noble Fool Theatricals, Theatre at the Center, Next Theatre, House Theatre of Chicago, American Theatre Company, Apollo Theatre and the Royal George Theatre. Visit www.ethandeppe.com.
James Beaudry (Associate Director) is Artistic Director at Timber Lake Playhouse in western Illinois. Directing and choreography credits include Chicago, West Side Story, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, The Wedding Singer, Oklahoma!, Fiddler on the Roof, Urinetown, Grease, 42nd Street among others. World premieres include Jason & Ben (NYMF) and Mark Twain’s Blues (Off-Broadway). James is a reader of new works for NYMF. Upcoming: Sunset Boulevard, Children of Eden. MFA, Mills College. Thanks Brenda, Fred and Ben.
Andrew Waters (Associate Choreographer) –
Justin Goh (Scenic Design/Props Master) joined the crew of Theo Ubique with the production of Chess. Justin is also the prop master for Tellin Tales Theatre, which just completed another successful run of its Six Stories up series in October. When he is not making props and designing the set for Theo Ubique, he spends his time at Mess Hall, an experimental cultural center located a block south of No Exit Café.
Matt Guthier (Costume Designer) is very excited to be working his favorite choreographer/director Brenda Didier. They have collaborated for more years than either will admit. His past credits include resident costumer at Pheasant Run Resort for 11 years, the American Country Music Awards and the Kenny Rogers Christmas Tour. Originally in the fashion industry, he has dressed notables from Annie Lenox to Olivia de Havilland. Thank you Brenda!!
Izumi Inaba (Makeup Designer) is glad to be working with Theo Ubique for the first time. She is primarily a costume designer, whose works include Greensboro (Steep Theatre), Fantasticks (Porchlight Music Theatre), Stage Door (Griffin Theatre), Obscura (Red Tape), and most recently CPS Shakespeare! Romeo and Juliet (Chicago Shakespeare). She returns to Northwestern University to teach theatrical makeup design this fall, where she earned her MFA in Stage Design.
Michael Buoninconto (Wig Designer) has been styling theatrical hairpieces and wigs all over Chicago and the northwest suburbs for the better part of the last decade.
He and his two sisters opened Rockstar Salon & Spa in downtown Roselle
in November of 2007. That same year he was named one of the Top 5 Hairstylists in North America. He teaches formal hairstyling/finishing and has worked alongside of some of the worlds top editorial hairdressers. Cats marks his fourth production with Theo Ubique after styling individuals for Chess, Sweet & Hot: The Songs of Harold Arlen and The Lady’s Not for Burning.
Michael M. Nardulli (Lighting Designer) is excited to be doing his first production with Theo Ubique. He just returned to Chicago after bouncing around the East Coast for a few years and is ecstatic to be here. Recently he was the lighting designer for Darwin in Malibu with the Generic Theatre and Private Lives with Bristol Valley Theater. Last season, he worked with the Virginia Stage Company on Around the World in 80 Days and Billy Bishop Goes to War, among other shows.
Rachael Holiday (Stage Manager) is excited to be stage managing her fourth show this year at Theo Ubique! Previously for Theo, she stage managed Chess, Sweet and Hot: The Songs of Harold Arlen and The Lady’s Not for Burning. In the past, she has been on the stage management teams for The Fellowship of the Performing Arts, Noble Fool Theatricals, Bohemian Theatre Ensemble, Timber Lake Playhouse and The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. She received her BFA from Webstern University. She would like to thank Fred, Brenda, Ben and the Cast & Creative Team for this wonderful experience.
Ben Mason (Production Manager) is really enjoying hanging his artistic hat at Theo Ubique. Shows onstage at Theo include the Jeff Award Winning Evita and Chess as well as The Taming of the Shrew. Behind the scenes: Sweet and Hot: The Songs of Harold Arlen, The Lady’s Not for Burning and now CATS!. Ben would like to thank Brenda, Fred, Rachael, and the entire cast and crew for such an amazing experience.
Fred Anzevino (Artistic Director) co-founded Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre in 1997, and since then, has produced and directed more than 30 productions, most recently Sweet and Hot: The Songs of Harold Arlen and Chess, both receiving critical acclaim and sold-out houses. Chess also received seven Jeff Awards, including best musical production. Under Fred’s artistic direction, Theo Ubique has received 25 Jeff Awards Non-Equity, 3 after Dark Awards and The Rogers Park Community Council’s “Spirit of Rogers Park Award.” He personally received Jeff Awards for direction of a musical three consecutive years: Cabaret(2008), Evita (2009) and Chess (2010).
Martha Hudak (General Manager) is responsible for business functions, marketing and public relations of Theo Ubique and is a marketing and communications consultant for businesses and non-profits (www.mjhudak.com) and dabbles in voice over work (www.marthavoice.com). She previously appeared in community theatre, variety and gridiron shows and studied playwriting, dance and music. She also sang with a Messiah Concert Choir for several years and in the Holiday Pops Concert at Harris Theatre.
David Heimann (Company Manager)
NOTE: All bios courtesy of Theo Ubique’s bio page