One of my priorities in reviewing productions around the Chicago area, is to make sure that those who want to see “live theater” get what they pay for in the way of quality. We all know that Chicago is a great town for theater, but many are not aware of our “Community Theater companies”. In fact, many are not even sure what the name “Community Theater” means. It is supposed to mean local theater groups that bring culture to a specific community, and while that may have been what it started out to be, it has gone a different direction and today is a theater group/company , in most cases, not-for-profit, where the actors are not paid for the work they put in, but still bring to the stage a worthwhile theatrical production. Let’s face it. An actor is an actor and if they loved what they were doing but chose to take a different career direction, does that mean they have lost the desire to perform? Absolutely NOT!
As a former actor who did some great “Community Theater” work with some splendid companies, I can tell you that the staff, from the prop person up to the director ( although sometimes, directors are paid per production) loves bringing live theater to the local audiences and what they bring is of the same high quality we may find in a professional theater, but for the consumer at a far lesser cost. One of these troupes, a company that was started by Harlan and Susan Haimes many years ago is The Highland Park Players. Over the years, I have heard of the great talent that comes out for the shows as well as the staff that brings to a stage a very professional production. Now that I am a “suburbanite” , I have opted to visit some of these theater companies in order to make you, my readers aware of the special values in theater that are available to you.
“Cats” one of the longest running shows in Broadway history a done that has been done in every major theater in Chicago as well as some of the smallest of storefronts, i s now on the stage at The Northbrook Theater but is presented by the aforementioned Highland Park Players. “Cats” is a musical that features dance that was written by Andrew Lloyd Webber ( lyrics by Al Dubin) based on the T/S. Eliot, “Old Possum’s Book Of Practical Cats” and the novel by Bradford Ropes. “Cats ” is a magical two hours of solid music and wonderful dancing as directed/choreographed by Jennifer Cupani. Northbrook’s Theater is a wonderful venue located at 3323 West Walters ( just west of downtown Northbrook) with a marvelous stage and comfortable seating and loads of parking ( free).
“For those of you unaware of the story; it is a special night in the life of the cat- the Jellicle Cats who meet each year in the dump ( a marvelous set by Ashley Woods). The purpose is to have one cat selected to start anew. It is a time for joy and a time for fear, but for the audience it is a time to enjoy and create some new memories in your family’s life, as this is the perfect show to bring the kids to ( I would have to say four and up).
All the characters in the play are in fact “Cats” so the make-up ( Krist Neumann) and the costumer (Patty Halajian) along with the wig master ( Michael Buonincontro) are truly responsible for the art that we see on the stage. While the singers/ dancers are glorious and highly talented, it is the technical part of the production that stands out even more. If they don’t look like cats, are they really as good? Well, take it from me, one who is highly allergic to cats- I sneezed and had a runny nose for hours after this production. ( just kidding).
When one speaks to this production, there are some elements that truly stand out and while the budget of Highland Park Players is not even close to what a Broadway production is, the costumes and set worked. The junk yard does not have the floating tire, but there is a stairway to heaven, illuminated (Kurt Ottinger) and the sound ( Michael Patrick) was as clear as any production I have seen on any stage. The props (Janice Gemp), again, on a limited budget were sheer perfection, but the most impressive part of the show has to be the solid cast- their dancing ability and the range of voices. Wow!
“Cats” like Rum Tum Tugger ( David Geinosky, who also handles Mungojerrie), Bustopher Jones( Pater Rasey, who also plays Skimbleshanks), the incredible magic of Mr. Mistoffles( Phil Kaiser), the marvelous and enchanting Grizabella( Deftly handled by Denise Tamburrino, who sent chills up my spine), Jellylorum( Hannah Rose) and Bombalurina ( Alexis Armstrong), JennanyDots (Missy Greenberg) and of course Old Deuteronomy ( Mike Weaver is powerful in thi srole). Other notable performance were Bob Spidales as Old Gus and I am glad they cut the pirate play within a play , never made much sense anyway), and David Lemrise, Christie Burgess-Martino, Kelly Maryanski, Toni Mansfield, Annie Jo Fischer, Perry Georgepolous, Annie Snow, Jenna Makkawy, Kelly Wojnarowski, Rebecca Fortier, Anne Badamo-Connors, Wendy Brown, Marissa Hockfield, Brittany Smithson and Marnie Warner- one can see that these are people who love what they do and want to exceed the expectations of thos who purchase tickets- they did that and more!
Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.
Sundays at 2 p.m.
Tickets are $20 ( a very low price for theater of this high quality) and can be purchased by going on line to firstname.lastname@example.org or www.highlandparkplayers.com
The offices of the theater are located at 636 Ridge Road in Highland Park in the West Ridge Center
To see what others are saying, visit wwwtheatreinchicago.com, go to review Round-up and click at “cats”