Sam Tedaldi, Matt Dengler, Brandi Porter, Adante Carter and Kyle Sherman in ‘Pete the Cat.’ (Photo Jeremy Daniels via The Broadway Blog.)
By April Stamm
There are times when a piece of theater just comes together. It’s rare, but when it does, it’s enthralling and leaves the audience giddy as they exit, full of satisfaction and even glee. Some would argue that when playing to the primary school set, that sense of glee could be chalked up to childhood itself and entertaining rugrats is a piece of cake. As someone who’s performed for kids, been in many audiences with kids and who has my very own kid, I would whole heartedly beg to differ. Kids are brutally honest in their reactions. Kids know their source material in and out and have incredible opinions about it. Kids are tough critics. Luckily for Theatreworks USA and their production of Pete the Cat at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, they got it all right in this energetic and completely delightful production.
Based on the children’s book series by Kimberly and James Dean featuring the ever cool, somewhat retro, Pete the Cat, this new musical finds Pete sentenced to live with a family as a housecat after being captured and harangued by the well-meaning but no nonsense Cat Catcher (Brandi Porter). He is quickly placed in the home of the nervous yet strangely picture perfect Biddle family. Mom (Sam Tedaldi), Dad (Matt Dengler) and vivacious five-year-old Olive (Brandi Porter) fall all over themselves with joy and happy anxiety at the thought of their new cat… second grader Jimmy (Adante Carter) is less enthusiastic. Jimmy’s fastidious, study driven life has no obvious place for a shedding, rock guitar playing, devil may care attitude having pet like Pete. After some teamwork on an art project gone awry and a magical journey in an enchanted VW (very wonderful) bus, the two find balance and salvation in their differences.
Packed with nine toe tapping, high octane numbers in its succinct 50-minutes, Pete the Cat’s music (by Will Aronson) jams with an early rock and roll feel. Book and lyrics by Sarah Hammond are giddy fun, clear enough for the tots to follow and clever enough to not bore or annoy the parents. The shining number, “It’s a VW Bus” is rousing and adorable and will not soon leave your head (mostly in a good way; I’m singing it right now).
The cast of five actors portrays the dozen or so parts with vivaciousness and warmth. In this non-stop singing and dancing romp, each actor makes it to the finish line without faltering, keeping up the enticingly frenetic energy to the final curtain. A particular standout, Sam Tedaldi plays Ms. Biddle, Mrs. Creech (Jimmy’s second-grade teacher), Grumpy Toad, and others with range, humor and charisma.
Beyond being just a darn entertaining production, Pete the Cat is the 29th production in Theatreworks USA Free Summer Theatre program. Started in 1989, Theatreworks USA’s goal with this program is to give kids from all social and financial backgrounds a chance to see live theater and cultivate their own theater tradition. Theatreworks USA is on target to give out 15,000 free theater tickets this year alone. Group tickets can be reserved before performance dates by nonprofit and school groups or grabbed free at the box office to individuals on the same day as performances.
Giving all kids an opportunity to love the theater, and giving them a fantastic, super high energy, thoughtfully crafted and produced production to boot, Pete the Cat really does have it all.
Pete the Cat
Presented by Theatreworks USA
The Lucille Lortel Theatre
121 Christopher Street, NYC
Through August 18, 2017
April Stamm is a theatre, food, and lifestyle journalist. She is a regular contributor to The Broadway Blog and Edge Media Network and is a Chef Instructor at the International Culinary Center.