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PETE THE CAT at Theatre of Youth brings “grown-up” production values to a pre-K crowd, final weekend!

THE BASICS: PETE THE CAT, a musical by Will Aronson & Sarah Hammond, presented by Theatre of Youth, directed by Bobby Cooke, starring Ryan Butler, Renee Landigran, Peter S. Raimondo, Dan Urtz, and Alexandria Watts runs four more times, Saturday and Sunday October 26 and 27 at 1 p.m. and 4 at the Allendale Theatre, 203 Allen Street (884-4400).

www.theatreofyouth.org

Runtime: 55 minutes for the play, plus 20 minutes for optional post-show Q&A and “photo-ops” with the cast. Recommended for Ages 4+ and the final performances this Sunday, October 27 (at either 1 p.m. or 4 p.m.) feature “Fall Feline Fun” with treats for kids, cat masks (wear your own or download, cut out, and color from the website) plus a giant audience selfie photo and the usual post-show photos with the cast!

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  With over sixty volumes in the (NY Times best-seller listed) PETE THE CAT series of books started in 1999 by Kimberly and James Dean (several of which can be purchased in the theater lobby), now the ever groovy, guitar-playing, homeless free spirit Pete the Cat is the star of a musical. And with his hipster beret you know he’s a real cool cat. The story starts as the usually street-smart Pete gets caught by the Cat-Catcher for disturbing the peace with his rock band. He is sentenced to live with the Biddle family to become more socialized. Neither side of this arrangement is quite sure how it’s going to work. And, as it turns out, Pete creates more distractions for the super organized, second-grader Jimmy Biddle than Jimmy’s annoying little sister, five-year-old Olive, ever could. But, when perfectionist Timmy can’t complete an art project, Pete takes him in a VW bus on a wild adventure, to outer space and under the sea and off to Paris, too, seeking artistic inspiration and creative confidence and ending up with a deep friendship.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: At the start of every show Theatre of Youth Artistic Director Meg Quinn comes down front and says: “Welcome to the theater!” And it’s “the theater” writ large, because the goal is to provide the same high-quality theater experience for children that any adult would expect at any venue in or out of town. And with PETE THE CAT they deliver. At TOY the production values are never “dumbed down.”

L-R Raimondo, Urtz, Butler, Watts, Landrigan, source Christy Francis, Theatre of Youth

 

Right away, the set is impressive, with large toy alphabet blocks spelling out the letters to P-E-T-E-T-H-E-C-A-T downstage and along the back wall various Pete-the-cat-isms such as“Chill” and “Rock On,” “Cool” and “Groovy.” And it’s a very experienced cast with TOY veterans Renee Landrigan, Dan Urtz, and Alexandria Watts taking on, between the three of them, a dozen roles. Peter S. Raimondo who has been making a name for himself on area stages plays “Pete The Cat” and “Jimmy” is played by Ryan Butler whose bio claims that he’s a freshman at Starpoint High School, but I don’t believe it. Such poise.

It’s a high energy romp directed and choreographed by the irrepressible Bobby Cooke. Nobody ever just “plants and rants” in a Bobby Cooke directed production. Everybody is in constant motion.

All cast, source Christy Francis, Theatre of Youth

Of course, except for mid-week bused-in school performances, if there’s a 4+ kid in one seat, there’s a parent or other adult caregiver sitting in the next. Now, unlike many scripts over the years at TOY  I didn’t find a lot written in PETE THE CAT to entertain adults. It’s a musical that was written for little kids and the random appearance of a grumpy toad or an astronaut (cool as that is) are part of the silliness. I would say that anyone who liked DRAGONS LOVE TACOS last season will like PETE THE CAT this year. Good acting, sets, costumes, etc. but just a little bit random, not unlike stories told by the 4+ set themselves!

So, what do the adults get out of this? Well, as usual they get first-rate acting and a sweet story of a stressed-out kid with a happy ending where everyone learns a good life lesson.

So, what do the adults get out of this? Well, as usual they get first-rate acting and a sweet story of a stressed-out kid with a happy ending where everyone learns a good life lesson. And they get to enjoy those high production values. The costumes (Barbara Priore), the stage and special effects including the VW bus (Kenneth Shaw), and the sound (Chester Popiolkowski) are fun and fresh. The show moves along (Brittany Wysocki, Stage Manager and Tracy Snyder, Managing Director) and do stay immediately after the show for an explanation of some of the tricks, including costume changes (and there are many). Also, the band (Ryan Campbell, Joe Isgar, and Omeri Monroe) is tight.

And I did appreciate that the first half of the Q&A at the end was scripted, explaining aspects of the sets and sound effects and even featuring an on-stage “quick costume change” race between actors Dan Urtz and Alexandria Watts.

Photos provided by Lisa Grisanti PR Director for Theatre of Youth. Photographer – Christy Francis.

UP NEXT:  There are three different age-appropriate acting classes coming up, each one taking place over two consecutive Saturdays, and all will be held at the Westminster Presbyterian Church Parish Hall.

ACTING AS IF is for students in Grades 1-3 and will be on Saturday Oct. 26 & Nov 2nd from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

MAKE BELIEVE: Scripted Storytelling is for students in Grades 3-6 and will be on Nov. 9th & 16th from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

MAD SKILLS: Intro to Scene Study is for teens and will be on Dec. 7th & 14th from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

POPPER’S PENGUINS, the next on-stage show (Dec. 7 – Dec. 22), is recommended for ages 5+ and is based on the novel by Richard and Florence Atwater. Note: TOY is committed to increasing access and inclusion for our community’s children and families who need special consideration and every production has a Sensory Awareness show. For MR. POPPER’S PENGUINS, that’s December 15 at 10 a.m.


*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good time at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For 20 years, as program host on Classical 94.5 WNED and continuing on-stage with the Buffalo Chamber Music Society, he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?"

As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take." And, on “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM and Saturday afternoons at 5:55 p.m. on Classical 94.5 WNED) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?"

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he has been an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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