About that tire in ‘Cats,’ and other show gimmicks

December 29th, 2010
By

The strippers in “Gypsy,” who knew a thing or two about show biz (especially burlesque), sing “You Gotta Get a Gimmick,” as an option of getting noticed.
Decades later, a number of shows — including the visiting “Cats” playing through Sunday at Blasidell Concert Hall — have a gimmick. A moment where something out of the ordinary, and even extraordinary, occurs, to become a trademark of the production.
This touring “Cats” is the cat’s meow, a musical that thoroughly entertains.
Despite opening night glitches with lights (some spotlight miscues) and sound (crackling mikes, a brief unheard line or two), the show boasts an ensemble both nimble on feet and in voice.
While Mr. Mistoffelees does not leap as high as some as I’ve seen, he is magical and mesmerizing. Throughout the company of about 20, everyone lives up to the esprit of the show — Munkustrap, Rum Tum Tugger, Mongojerrie, Rumpleteazer, Gus/Growltiger, Old Deuteronomy.
And Grizabella, tarnished glamour and all, surprises vocally with such power and potency, in her final “Memory” contribution.
If the show has a negative, it’s that junkyard set — while it boasts the car trunk and stove, for feline entrances and exits, the heap of “stuff” looks more like a collage of rubbish. Seek, and ye shall find Coke bottles, Raisin Bran cereal box and more — seemingly like molded sculpture rather than a stash of trash. See if you agree.
And oh, what about the gimmicks?

Here are some classic and remarkable theatrical moments:
“Cats” — A junkyard tire prop ascends up, up, up to the Heavyside Layer, accompanied by a smokescreen.
“Phantom of the Opera” — The fabled chandelier, hanging over the orchestra section of the theater, falls ... bringing Act I to a climax.
“Mary Poppins” — The supercalifragilisticexpialidocious nanny “flies,” toting umbrella, of course.
“Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” — The only musical, which played only on Broadway, boasted a car that chugged and danced over the folks in the orchestra section.
“Starlight Express" — Actors are different train cars, and they skate — with roller derby speed, sometimes — on on-stage tracks that often have audience members sitting in close proximity, as well as in the aisles.
“Miss Saigon” — The fall of Saigon also includes a flight of a helicopter, with requisite noise, wind and spinning “blades.”
“Les Miserables” — The show is known for its turntable stage, as well as its opening and moving barricades.
“Singing in the Rain” — With water an integral part of its storyline, “rain” falls and glistens and splatters on the lamppost, sidewalk and gutter.
“Tarzan” — While there’s not much that can be done, about a figure growing up amid apes, most of the cast whisk from the three “walls” of the stage, bungee style.
“Peter Pan” — While Tinker Bell is mostly a glistening and glowing light, Peter’s the one who goes aerial, along with the kids, in the theatrical retelling of the ageless literary figure.
Any more stagecraft moments that you remember? Share 'em.

One Response to “About that tire in ‘Cats,’ and other show gimmicks”

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