WYTHEVILLE, VA - Recently, I enjoyed Wohlfahrt Haus Dinner Theatre's newest production, Andrew Lloyd Webber's magnificent musical Cats. Sadly, though, I enjoyed it in a theatre that was less than half full and that is a darned shame.
Southwest Virginia is extremely lucky to have such a professional-level dinner theatre and this show, in particular, really pulls out all the stops with a cast of 20, an imaginative set, marvelous singing and dance numbers that look nothing short of impossible.
For those who have never seen a WHDT show and might think they are amateur productions, be assured this is in no way the case. Virtually all of the cast are professionals who make their livings on the dinner theatre, theme park and cruise ship circuit. Most have degrees in drama, musical theatre and such like with the talents to match.
The theatre, itself, is a warm and inviting place that is not the least bit stuffy or "high-brow" and you are encouraged to "come as you are" even though you might want to bring along a sweater or light jacket because the air conditioning keeps the place delightfully cool all summer long.
I doubt that anyone has not heard of Cats because it has been around since it opened in London in 1981 and on Broadway a year later. On the other hand, I suspect not many people know the show's plot - or even that it has one - primarily because it is rather complicated and so woven into the songs and dance numbers that it is rather easy to miss. Basically it tells the story of a tribe of alley cats that calls itself the Jellicles and that are gathered for the patriarch Old Deuteronomy to choose one of his fellow cats to be elevated into Heaviside, a sort of Heaven for felines.
Along the way we get to discover the histories and personalities of various members of the tribe including Gus, the theatre cat; Skimbleshanks, the railway cat; Macavity, the mystery cat; and many others. Based rather loosely on Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot, the show features plenty of music, but the one you will doubtless recognize is "Memories," which song Karen Zucco Melton, as Grizabella, uses to positively bring down the house.
If you have favorite WHDT actors you are likely to see them in this production. Our old buddy George Bailey is Old Deuteronomy, Joshua Blaine is Mister Mistoffelees, Natsuko Hirono is Victoria, Millicent Hunnicutt is Bombalurina, Caitie L. Moss is Sillabub and Shane Terry is Skimbleshanks. Everyone in this cast, however, is excellent.
If you like big, colorful and loud musicals, this one is purr-fect for you. And don't forget - the food is good and if a nice dark German beer is your saucer of milk, the Wohlfahrt Haus's selection is as good as it gets in these parts.
Cats sings in the back alley through Oct. 28. For dates, times and reservations: 888-950-3382, 276-223-0891 or www.wohlfahrthaus.com.