THE CAT CAME BACK created by Fred Penner, Jay Brazeau and Kim Selody, directed by Selody (Manitoba Theatre for Young People). At Young People’s Theatre (165 Front East). To March 16, extra performances for March break; see youngpeoplestheatre.ca. $15-$20. 416-862-2222. Rating: NNNN
Penner, actor Jay Brazeau and director Kim Selody have collaborated on a stage version of the song, commissioned by Manitoba Theatre for Young People. Working with puppeteer/musicians Jessee Havey and Paul Hooson, they've devised an hour-long piece aimed at kids from four to seven. Those young viewers will be entranced with the production, both its music and its inventive staging.
That staging (designed by Linda Leon, lit by Scott Henderson) has the feel of a Chautauqua tent show, a touring circus/sideshow that brought culture and entertainment to rural America. With its fast-moving backdrops and clever visuals, this piece will entertain adults as well as children, even when the title song goes into its 10th repetition.
Penner's the linchpin of the show, singing not only the titular number but also performing (with the rest of the cast) several other songs as well, including a Western number and a sea shanty. He's a genuine Pied Piper for youngsters, who are encouraged and clap and sing along during the performance.
But just as popular is the frisky feline puppet, who appears and disappears with magical speed as we travel around the world, to exotic lands as well as to the bottom of the sea, up in a hot-air balloon and even to the moon. Look for the cat in various unexpected incarnations.
Another winner is Brazeau, as Mr. Johnson, the cat's owner who can't wait to be rid of it. Yet there's a bond between them, and Mr. Johnson feels quite alone when he thinks he's driven his nemesis away.
A wonderful clown, Brazeau first appears in a sweater whose yarn has been pulled randomly by the cat; huge chunks of the sweater vanish before the end of the show. His head, it seems, is the cat's favourite scratching post.
Able to convey anger, helplessness and fragility simultaneously, Brazeau will likely be the character that adults remember most fondly about The Cat Came Back.
With extra performances during March break, you can treat both yourself and your kids to an entertaining hour of theatre.