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Review

With song and dance, 'Pete the Cat' charms at TOY

Often, we stress ourselves out by trying to be perfect. Life can be challenging and scary, and we sometimes add to the pressure by worrying about getting everything absolutely right. Many of us could benefit, it seems, from friendship with an easygoing, hipster cat who teaches valuable life lessons about chilling out and just enjoying the rock 'n' roll jam that life can be.

Enter Pete the Cat, in this wonderful, family-friendly musical production, based on the “Pete the Cat” books (by Kimberly and James Dean), in an adaptation by Sarah Hammond (book and lyrics) and Will Aronson (music).

A sparkling cast of players tells a charming tale about a “road” cat brightening the lives of the Biddle family, after a cat catcher removes this roving and rock 'n' rolling feline from his natural home on the streets. With the charming Pete now a house cat sharing their home, the Biddles find themselves transformed for the better.

The production features a talented trio of musicians supporting the actors’ outstanding singing and dancing. Director Bobby Cooke has perfectly paced the production: the story flows smoothly, punctuated by enchanting set pieces. It features a fantastic set (designed by Kenneth Shaw), whose bright colors and imaginative designs stress the story’s message that creativity is more important than mere tidiness or order.

Peter Raimondo is groovy in the title role of "Pete the Cat" at Theatre of Youth. (Photo courtesy of Christy Francis)

The acting is uniformly excellent. All begins and ends with a rivetingly cool performance by Peter Raimondo as the groovy and free-spirited Pete. Wearing sunglasses and often reminding us how much he just wants to jam on his guitar, Pete becomes the purr-fectly charismatic center of the proceedings. The tomcat-protagonist generously dispenses nuggets of wisdom from “Pete’s philosophy”— and his kindness and coolness combine to make the overly nervous second-grader Jimmy Biddle learn to relax and enjoy things like art and family. Simply put, Pete’s animal magnetism holds this play together.

Other actors are excellent, with their bright, enthusiastic performances pitch-perfect for children. Ryan Butler is superb as Jimmy Biddle, a problematically uptight child whose worries about things like his toy rocket breaking or his room becoming untidy cause him to be joyless. After becoming roommates with Pete, who soon brings chaos into his life, Jimmy finds new courage as he journeys in a VW (Very Wonderful) bus to the sea, to space and to a bohemian café in Paris.

Alexandria Watts is endearing in her many roles — whether it’s Pete’s drummer Grumpy Toad, or his excitable teacher, Mrs. Creech. Watts’s superb singing, hitting unbelievably high notes, is a highlight. Dan Urtz also is excellent, moving seamlessly from the uptight father of the Biddles to Brit-rock hipster bassist Gus the Platypus.

The fun cast of "Pete the Cat" includes, from left, Peter Raimondo, Dan Urtz, Ryan Butler, Alexandria Watts and Renee Landrigan. (Photo courtesy of Christy Francis)

Renee Landrigan provides the show’s standout role as Olive Biddle. Landrigan’s enthusiasm is absolutely infectious. An endlessly chipper 5-year-old who is thrilled when Pete enters their lives, Olive generates hilarious tension by falling madly in love with Pete —a would-be romance that is hindered as much by the cat allergies that make Olive sneeze so dramatically, as by the difference in her would-be spouse’s species. Convinced that she and Pete can only be properly married while wearing tutus, Olive brought the house down with laughter by getting the usually unflappably cool Pete, charmed by Olive’s intense, if silly, affections, to put on the tutu.

This play is followed by an optional question-and-answer session, where the actors and artistic director Meg Quinn explain the production, as well as opportunities for pictures with the cast.

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REVIEW

“Pete the Cat”

3 1/2 stars (out of 4)

Presented by the Theatre of Youth through Oct. 27 at the Allendale Theatre (203 Allen St.). Performances are at 1 and 4 p.m. Oct. 19, 26 and 27 and 1 p.m. Oct. 20. A sensory-friendly performance is 10 a.m. Oct. 20. Tickets are $15-$28 (box office, theatreofyouth.org, and by calling 884-4400). Recommended for ages 4 and older.

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