Garfield the Musical with Cattitude

Ivy Tech Waldron Auditorium

H-T Review

Review: Purr-duction brings beloved comic strip cat to life for all ages

By Connie Shakalis
September 11, 2017

Photo by Blueline.

Even if you’ve never been owned by a cat, never read Jim Davis’ comic strip “Garfield” or don’t have access to kids, you still might really enjoy Cardinal Stage Company’s production of “Garfield: The Musical with Cattitude.” After all, as Cardinal’s managing director, Gabe Gloden, boasted before the show, “It’s the only show in town with cattitude.”

It deserves boasting. Good children’s theater takes into account not just preteens, but adults, too. It needs to dazzle the 5-year-olds while offering something for their older siblings and great-aunts. John L. Cornelius II wrote the music and lyrics, with the book by Michael J. Bobbitt and Jim Davis, with intergenerational appeal in mind. There is plenty of raucous kid-impressing goofiness, but there are also many clever one-liners and lyrics.

“There’s no hope for a civilization that wakes to the sound of an alarm clock,” declares Garfield, played ever so well by Jason Slattery. This is his Cardinal debut, and he is an audience-pleaser. It would have been easy for an actor to mug his way through this role of smug, gluttonous, self-centered feline. But Slattery resists that temptation to overact and has us believing. We feel Garfield’s dejection at having his birthday forgotten, his fear when chased by animal control and his joy of returning to his comfort zone after having run away from home. We want to hug him.

Slattery’s voice fills the auditorium with its power. I kept thinking, somehow, of one of my favorite musicals, Broadway’s “Dreamgirls,” when he sang.

Another striking — and sonorous — voice is that of Reid Henderson, who plays Garfield’s owner — well, of course, Garfield owns him — Jon Arbuckle. Henderson lends a polished finesse to the athletically enthusiastic show. “Do you want some coffee?” he asks Garfield. “Do you want to live?” is the cat’s response.

Ashley Dillard sparkles as Garfield’s wanna-be girlfriend, Arlene. Dressed head to paw in pink, including pink false eyelashes and over-the-knee boots, she is hilarious as she croons into a microphone a la 1950s jazz club, “You got me singin’ the blu-u-u-es.”

Jon’s faithful, sensitive and rambunctious dog, Odie, is played by Chris Krenning. He barks and leaps with canine fervor. Very amusing is his dive into a garbage can, where he gorges on refuse then demurely wipes his lips with a linen napkin. Garfield, naturally, disdains him.

Garfield’s nemesis, the “younger, cuter” cat, Nermal, is played by Anna Butler. She is spry and lively as she torments the group with her intrusive vitality. Garfield, naturally, disdains her.

Chris Rhoton’s and Chris Simanton’s costumes are a highlight. From banana-yellow Odie to cat-gray Nermal, they have created a palette of party colors. A wonderful detail is Arlene’s pink sweater dress, cat-scratched on both sides.

Rhoton also designed the set. Jon’s living room is cheerful and homey in a horde of hues. For the song “The Alley,” a picket fence appears, lined with trash cans, which later adorn cast members’ torsos as they hide from the authorities.

Mother-daughter painters Becky and Cece Underwood created a merry blue checkerboard floor upon which the cast cavort.

Musical direction is by Brian Samarzea. The harmonies among the cast members are especially compelling.

Micah-Shane Brewer directed. He kept the pace alive and the kids in the audience engaged, not a simple feat. I liked his having Garfield sit in the audience at one point and imagined the star-struck excitement of those lucky kids.

Near the finale, as Garfield reverses his decision to run away from home, he tells the audience, “This was almost fun. I’m going back.”

Running away may not always be fun, but this show is.

Photo by Blueline