Who doesn’t hate Mondays?
Garfield the cat sure does, but there’s nothing to hate about the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse's latest children’s-theatre offering Garfield: The Musical with Cattitude.
This musical features characters from the beloved Jim Davis comic strip of the same name, and in this story, Garfield discovers that his birthday is on a Monday – the ultimate let-down – as he mopes around, searches for non-feline food, and runs away from home, all while his fellow animal companions forget it’s his special day. With the show directed by Brad Hauskins, the energy-filled ensemble of actors was superb, and enlivened the stage with their whimsical characters.
Portraying Garfield is Circa ‘21’s Jeremy Littlejohn, who serves behind the scenes as the venue’s production manager. This time, he was on the other side of the stage, and was supremely entertaining. Littlejohn invited the audience in to the grumpy world of Garfield with great helpings of energy, playfulness, and stage presence. Garfield's writing was also super-funny, which I wasn’t necessarily expecting, but Littlejohn’s lines, in particular, packed a comedic punch. Sure, it’s a children’s show, yet the comedy and playfulness in this piece carried its own regardless.
Nermal, the “perfect” spunky cat, is played by Caitie L. Moss, and is a true frenemy to Garfield throughout. Her interactions with Garfield and the rest of the characters were fun and never got boring. Odie, the fast and lively dog whom Garfield claims is his pet,, is portrayed by Abigail Graham, and with her lines mostly being loud dog noises, the actor's facial expressions and cartoony high momentum were the highlights of her performance. On Tuesday's opening-day presentation, Graham kept the audience’s attention, and never seemed to run out of breath or break character, with the character juxtaposition between Odie and Garfield proving especially fun.
Arlene, the cutesy kitty in pink played by Sylvia Muchamore, is a sweet cat that's nice to Garfield, only to get grump and angst in return. Her hopeful and sweet attitude was another enjoyable production aspect. And in the roles of Jon and the Animal Control Officer is TJ Belser, whose simple-minded Jon was especially entertaining when Garfield kept knocking the guy's belongings off a table. Jon was a fun contrast to Besler's Animal Control Officer, who appeared in a wild animal chase around the stage and theatre when the felines (and Odie) left home for a new life in the alley.
Garfield also featured detailed and lively choreography by Hauskins and cast member Graham, and the actors seemed to have a terrific time dancing, singing, and acting together, which added to the audience's enjoyment. There was also a great deal of audience interaction, as is the case with a lot of Circa ‘21 children’s theatre, that certainly kept younger patrons engaged. Something I appreciate about these Circa '21 shows is that they keep them very simple, but still deliver clean and polished productions boasting the technical standards of their mainstage offerings. In particular here, I really enjoyed the lighting design by Emmett Bodeker, who also served as the show’s assistant stage manager. The hour-long show was packed with highly programmed light cues and vibrant colors, making the experience all the more satisfying.
Designer Bradley Robert Jensen’s costumes were also, as always, superb. He went the route of stylish human clothes, but cartoony ones with animalistic accessories. I especially enjoyed Odie’s long, whimsical tail., and Garfield’s costume included, as it had to, a lot of orange – but with a plaid shirt and orange shoes made to look like paws. This wardrobe whimsy also matched the scenic elements and paint treatment designed by Hauskins and painted by Becky Meissen. The set was largely comprised of rotating flat units, painted in a comic-strip style that mimicked the original Jim Davis art. Jon’s house scenes, for example, had painted on their walls simple lines and shapes that represented picture frames, a lamp, and more. Another shout-out goes to Meissen for her wonderful hand-painted show title sign suspended above the stage, in which she recreated the iconic Garfield logo and accompanying cat pose.
Garfield: The Musical with Cattitude was so much fun. The original cartoon may have lost some of its popularity since its inception, but that doesn't get in the way of this one-act musical being a highly entertaining, whimsical event. Bring the young ones in your life, or go alone – this is sure to brighten your day and uplift your week after a horrible Monday.
Garfield: The Musical with Cattitude runs at the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse (1828 Third Avenue, Rock Island IL) through June 24, and more information and tickets are available by calling (309)786-7733 extension 2 and visiting Circa21.com.