Excursion to California
At the time I left my eleven season stint at the Sacramento Light Opera (home of the Music Circus and then, Broadway Series), a lot of change had occurred to that company. The organization was started in the ‘50s as one of many outdoor musical theatre stock summer companies. The shows played in the round under a tent. As the years went on, the tent was moved to a more spacious portion of the block at 15th and H Streets with a bigger stage and increased seating capacity to about 2400. I worked in various capacities with the organization from 1989 to 2000 before moving to New York. At the time I left, plans for a new permanent theatre building were underway and two seasons later the new facility was up and running. The new building had an improved stage, improved lighting grid, real theatre seats with ample leg room and air conditioning. The organization’s name was changed to California Musical Theatre with the summer season still known as Music Circus and the winter presentation of tours renamed Broadway Sacramento. I have been back a few times to check in on the old stomping grounds and in August I caught the production of CATS. It was more or less the same old CATS, with the Broadway choreography reconfigured for the round. The costumes are recreations of the original design and the show featured cast members from the Broadway run, most notably, Ken Page, the original Old Deuteronomy. Also, Jeffrey Denman, who was Broadway’s closing night Munkustrap, was reprising his role here. The production was definitely entertaining, but it is difficult for me to get too excited about CATS. Even when I first saw it in San Francisco in 1986, I was a little surprised at how random it was. Like many, I was trying to work out a story as I was watching the first act. When you try that, you get very discouraged. Once I realized it was no more than a revue about different kinds of cats, I was able to enjoy the second half for what it really was. Even so, there is not enough to the show that really does it for me––save for its one truly great moment when Grisabella sings “Memory.” Jacquelyn Piro Donovan (famous for being the only actress to play both Cosette and Fantine in Broadway’s LES MIZ) belted the hell out of the hit song, sending the audience into a frenzy of cheers. The Music Circus remains the greatest cultural jewel of Northern California next to the city of San Francisco. The following night I volunteered to help work a benefit show staring Carol Channing, but that’s another story.