SALT LAKE CITY — You never quite know what you’re going to get when you attend a theatre for young audiences production. Often these kind of musicals are cheesy because they are geared towards children. I recently attended Salt Lake Acting Company‘s production of Pete the Cat with my five-year-old daughter. Pete the Cat is based off of the book series by Kimberly and James Dean. The music for this script is by Will Aronson with book and lyrics by Sarah Hammond. The script was slightly cheesy, but it is geared towards pre-K through 3rd graders. The play focuses on the story of Pete the Cat who is caught by the cat-catcher and sentenced to time as a house cat. The family that takes Pete in has a son named Jimmy who is a perfectionist, especially when it comes to school. Jimmy’s life descends into turmoil when Pete the Cat accompanies him to school and Jimmy gets in trouble for the first time. I highly enjoyed this production because of a stellar cast with high energy and strong vocals. This cast was definitely high professional grade. I know that when I attend a show that I expect to be cheesy and then I walk away feeling like it was a stellar production, it was an outstanding cast. Even though the show is geared toward children, the quality of talent involved makes it enjoyable for adults attending the production with children.
With a cast of five, I should address all five performers, as well they deserve. Pete the Cat was played by Jacob Weitlauf. Weitlauf always had a big smile on, and although Weitlauf was packed with high energy, Weitlauf had the laid-back coolness necessary for Pete the Cat. I was especially impressed with Weitlauf’s performance in the song, “Happy Roommates.” When Weitlauf sang the line, “at seven we jam!,” Weitlauf nailed the high note during that phrase. Weitlauf also did a great job of adding little moments of cat movements and mannerisms to help create more of a cat personality.
Pete the Cat was contrasted nicely with Jimmy, played by Joseph Paul Branca. Jimmy is a perfectionist in the form of a second grader. Jimmy worries very much about his academics and being neat and orderly. He and Pete are an unlikely combo who end up best friends. Branca did extremely well at being believable in his role. Branca’s upright posture made Jimmy seem rigid in his perfectionism, while his quick movements kept him childlike. I think Jimmy would have been pleased with Branca’s perfect performance.
The remaining three cast numbers each played three characters. Cameron Aragon played Olive, the Cat-Catcher, and Eloise. I loved Aragon’s rendition of five-year-old Olive. Both my five-year-old daughter and I said that her song, “The Sneezing Song,” was our favorite part of the show. Aragon was the perfect mix of determined, silly, and persistent for a five-year-old sister who loves cats but is allergic to them. We loved her little ballerina moves with each tutu-clad allergic reaction.
Shelby Anderson and Trayven Call both did an excellent job at being the ideal parents for Jimmy and Olive. I loved the family’s interaction in the song, “Under the Couch.” Anderson was also strong in her performance as Mrs. Creech. As Anderson was singing the song, “Painting,” I was impressed with her strong voice and how she managed to make her vocal styles different from that of Mom’s without resorting to any cheap tricks.
I find that when I review productions, I spend little time discussing the director. In this case I must address the work of Penelope Caywood, who was not only the director but also the choreographer and music director. Caywood was most definitely the vision and breath behind this production. The choreography was fun and real: it wasn’t just quick and simple choreography, but it was high-energy, fast-paced, and required a good amount of skill and energy from the actors. Each character in this production was distinct and different and blended well with the other characters. I was never distracted by the change in character done by individual actors. The credit of the seamless transitions needs to go to Caywood along with the actors. There was not a sour note in this production, and although the cast only rehearsed together for three weeks, I would have thought that they’ve been working together for longer, which is evidence of a good listening ear on the music director and evidence of strong performers.
Pete the Cat is definitely geared towards younger audiences, but it is with an incredibly strong cast to make it appealing to older audiences who aren’t necessarily into the Pete the Cat books like kids are. I highly recommend this production for anyone who is looking for a high-energy and high-quality production for young audiences.