A woman screams in the blackness, what transpired hidden from sight, our imaginations taking over. The lights brighten. The chorus of black cats, reminiscent of Fosse dancers mixed with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats, slinks back to their chairs, their predatory instincts now sated. Angel, the titular Hell’s Kitty, cleans the red ribbon of blood from her stark white paws. The demon cat is satisfied…for now…
Adapted from the horror-comedy of the same name (now available on Amazon Prime) and transformed into a campy rock musical, Hell’s Kitty makes its stage debut at the 2019 Hollywood Fringe Festival at the Broadwater Main Stage. Hell’s Kitty is a traditional proscenium piece which chronicles one struggling writer’s quest to find love, despite his possessed cat’s bloodthirsty propensity for maiming any woman he brings home. But is Angel, his fluffy companion, really possessed, or is something more going on beneath that furry exterior?
Trimming a film into a 90-minute musical production is likely a difficult task, and at times Hell’s Kitty suffers from insufficient backstory – for both certain characters and the overall narrative. Without having seen the film prior to the theatrical experience, I was unaware of what in-jokes I was missing out on, and confused by the lack of character development and plot details. This means that a couple of key plot twists lack the impact they need, and in some ways actually raise more questions about what is real versus imagined than they answer. As a wink to the audience, characters mention that guests will have to “watch the movie” to see how the story ends. I’m not sure if this is a meta-joke or if there really is a more complete ending in the film version. Either way, that comment might leave audiences feeling concerned that they didn’t get the full story.
Despite the at-times muddled plot, the show is absolutely delightful, and I was thoroughly entertained throughout. The musical version of Hell’s Kitty successfully leans into the camp and silliness of the story with cat puns, over-the-top characters and accents, nods to horror films, and an ensemble of (human) felines meowing, hissing, and growling along. The ensemble’s cat costumes are clear in their intentions without going overboard and having people fully decked-out in fur. The black attire and kitty ears are both easily concealed when one of the members needs to change into a human costume for a scene, and help them blend into the background when they are not the primary focus. The props are minimal but well-used – the cat toys especially provide Angel (played by Isabel Symington Caxide) with some really cute kitty moments.
The upbeat musical numbers in Hell’s Kitty rely on rapid-fire lyrics that forward the plot. With the exception of a few standout songs that let the vocalists really shine – “I’m Invisible,” “Chainsaw Kitty,” “Love Hurts” – the quick pacing does not give the actors much time to show off their range. That being said, the clever verbal gymnastics allow the actors to lean into their comedic characters, have fun with the emotions at hand, and explore some interesting and, at times, eerie harmonies. The repeating use of “meow” from the kitty ensemble is an entertaining and novel addition, and the inclusion of a countermelody in “It’s Horrible, But I Love You” leads to some truly hysterical moments.
The Hell’s Kitty cast is very impressive with their physicality and energy – both of which they sustain for the 90-minute performance. Joey Hunt has a difficult role as Nick, the straight man surrounded by craziness and torn between human connection and his love for his pet, but he carries the show excellently and has a fantastic voice when he is able to let loose. Patrick Steward (as Nick’s friend Adam) steals every scene he is in with his facial expressions and infectiously charming energy. Caxide’s Angel the cat is endearing, even while attacking Nick’s suitors. Jordan Knapp is adorable as flustered therapist Dr. Strode, MJ Brown’s Rosemary Carrie is a force to be reckoned with, and Sawyer Fuller’s voice soars in her solo as Chainsaw Kitty.
While not quite the purrfect piece, Hell’s Kitty is an entertaining, tongue-in-cheek musical that exquisitely blends horror, camp, and cats. The strength and vitality of the cast is deeply entertaining and engaging, making it extremely easy to gloss over the confusing plot points. Hell’s Kitty will have horror and musical fans alike meowing for more.
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