Music by Xavier Montsalvatge, Libretto by Nestor Lujan;
Directed by Moisés Kaufman, Conducted by Neal Goren
Produced by Gotham Chamber Opera and Tectonic Theater Project
Off Broadway, Opera / Puppetry
Runs through 12.14.14
El Teatro at El Museo del Barrio, 1230 Fifth Avenue at 104th Street
by Cindy Pierre on 12.9.14
Jonothon Lyons, Aaron Schroeder (behind), Stefano Brancato, Teddy Yudain, Marta Mozelle MacRostie,
Jessica Scott, Joseph Gallina, Ben Liebert (front) in El Gato con Botas (Puss In Boots).
BOTTOM LINE: The classic tale of a mangy cat doing everything he can to keep his life and home is delightfully staged with opera and amazing puppetry for good, clean, family fun.
Fancy a fable about a funny feline? Then get your ticket pronto to Gotham Chamber Opera and Tectonic Theater Project’s fantastic production of El Gato con Botas (Puss In Boots). Combining hilarious vocal performances with astounding puppetry, El Gato con Botas is a wonderful way to usher in the good feelings that are normally associated with the holidays.
Puss, the title character, is a veritable charmer. He even starts to make the audience laugh before the curtains are drawn by creeping to and fro in the shadows. However, he doesn’t become endearing until we gaze upon him for the first time. Skinny, orange, and missing clumps of fur, Puss is a pitiable sight to see, especially when we learn of his story. With three talented puppeteers (Stefano Brancato, Jonothon Lyons, Aaron Schroeder) controlling his skittish movements, it’s so easy to get immersed in the world of this forlorn and fraidy cat.
Inherited by Miller (Craig Verm), a master who doesn’t want him, Puss is left with the difficult task of proving his worth. To keep his hide and home, Puss promises his poor and reluctant caretaker riches, notoriety, and romance in the compelling voice of mezzo-soprano Ginger Costa-Jackson. The only things that he needs are a cape, hat, sword, and pair of boots to fulfill his mission. Getup in place, he saunters out into the world to earn his right to eat and sleep by capturing rabbits, beguiling a princess, and outwitting an ogre. Yep. Puss may be hungry, but he’s adventurous and he’s got smarts!
Rising up to meet Puss’ cleverness is Blind Summit Theatre’s outstanding puppeteer ensemble. Although Nestor Lujan’s libretto captures the whimsy of the classic tale, it is this team that brings all of the joy, wonder, and magic to the production. With sound choreography by Sean Curran that you may not think could have been synchronized so well to simulate authentic catlike motion, Blind Summit Theatre breathes life into Puss’ body and recreates many moments that are right out of the pages of a cat’s day. The movements are so fluid that they elicit the kind of glee, surprise, and enjoyment that animated cartoons usually do.
Director Moisés Kaufman maneuvers his cast well, particularly in scenes that feature multiple puppets. Working with the puppeteers, Kaufman carefully fills the stage with performers, but doesn’t clutter it. Kaufman also helps the cast to achieve effortless and seamless scene and set changes that enable the 70 minutes of running time to fly by without a hitch.
The only element that could use improvement is the English supertitles for the Spanish vocals. Although they are placed on the exterior of the upper awning of the stage and out of the way, they are a strain on the neck to read depending on your seating position and could be better illuminated.
By and large, if you’re looking for family entertainment that everyone can enjoy, El Gato con Botas delivers on all counts. The adults won’t have to sacrifice culture and the kids won’t have to sacrifice fun and excitement. And because opera and puppetry intersect, not only will everyone be amused, but hopefully, grown-ups and tots can learn something about each other’s interests, too.
(El Gato con Botas (Puss In Boots) plays at El Teatro at El Museo del Barrio, 1230 Fifth Avenue at 104th Street, through December 14th, 2014. Remaining performances are Thursday and Friday at 7PM, Saturday at 2PM and 7PM, and Sunday at 2PM. Tickets are $30-$175 and are available at www.ticketcentral.com or by phone at 212.279.4200. For more information about the two companies visit tectonictheaterproject.org and www.gothamchamberopera.org.)