'Cats' at Gateway Playhouse

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Ken Page stars as Old Deuteronomy and Jessica

Ken Page stars as Old Deuteronomy and Jessica Hendy as Grizabella in "Cats" at Gateway Playhouse, Bellport, through June 2, 2012. Photo Credit: Jeff Bellante

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Thirty years after it opened on Broadway and a dozen after it closed, "Cats" returns to its artistic roots with a Gateway Playhouse production that adheres to Andrew Lloyd Webber's original concept.

Starring Ken Page, who originated the role of Old Deuteronomy on Broadway, and directed by Jacob Brent, who played Mr. Mistoffelees during the show's nearly 18-year run, "Cats" borrows inspiration and most of its lyrics from T.S. Eliot's "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats," a Lloyd Webber childhood favorite. It remains one of his most versatile scores, with varying styles to fit individual feline personalities.

The plot, such as it is, involves the annual "Jellicle Ball," in which one cat is granted rebirth into a better life -- presumably one of nine. A jellicle cat, according to Eliot, has three names -- one common, one fancy and one known only to the kitty. Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer (tandem cartwheels by Will Porter and Deborah McCasland) are among the latter monikers. The jellicles audition for a life that only Old Deuteronomy, inscrutably played by Page, can grant. Among the Act I show-offs are Rum Tum Tugger, a rambunctious Kevin Loreque, and Bustopher Jones (Garrett Taylor), the silver-spoon-toting fat cat.

The pace quickens as the full moon fades and daybreak approaches (lighting by Doug Harry) on Kelly Tighe's junkyard set. Gus: The Theater Cat, infirm with age, is nominated by a young admirer (Lucy Horton) and treats us to a pirate-scene from his prime. Although the flashback goes on too long, Taylor makes Gus a doddering Act II favorite for redemption. Tony Howell as Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat, Jeff Smith as Macavity: The Mystery Cat and the nimble Evan Autio as Mistoffelees shake up our expectations with a rollicking trio of crowd-pleasers choreographed by director Brent.

By this time, we've already been introduced to shabby ex-Glamour Cat Grizabella and "Memory," the one "Cats" song not Eliot-versed. To lush accompaniment by Jeffrey Buchsbaum's orchestra, Jessica Hendy delivers a "Memory" to, yes, remember -- burnished with crescendos and purrs.

What does it all mean? As Old Deuteronomy sings in his tremulous vibrato, "A cat is not a dog." And "Cats" the musical still has life.

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WHAT "Cats"

WHEN | WHERE 2 and 8 p.m. today and tomorrow, 8 p.m. Friday and Tuesday, 3 and 8:30 p.m. Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday, through June 2 at Gateway Playhouse, 215 South Country Rd., Bellport

TICKETS $52-$58, $25 students; gatewayplayhouse.com, 631-286-1133

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