Lyric soprano Danya Katok is a young, fresh-faced performer with a sweet onstage demeanor. She has trained for—and launched—a career as an opera and classical concert singer, experience she gave evidence of during her recent Don’t Tell Mama engagement. But she is able to play chameleon—adjusting her singing style to perform numbers with a folk-pop flavor or a contemporary musical-theater sound. In her show, she sang in a fairly straightforward manner—not always as dramatic as one might expect of an opera-oriented vocalist, but she was centered and confident.
The show (directed by Dewey Moss) was entitled “CATS!: a cabaret of friendship, love, & humanity.” I’m not sure that “humanity” is the right word for a musical memoir about cat ownership—unless Katok prescribes to the “cats are people, too” theory. But in marketing materials for the show, the singer had fun with her title: she included a footnote explaining that no Andrew Lloyd Webber songs would be performed in the set. (As to why Katok didn’t go punny and call the show “Cat Talk”—that remains a mystery.)
The show’s narrative was a string of cozy anecdotes about how, after she and her husband moved to New York City, Katok—who had feared both cats and dogs in her childhood—determined to overcome her trepidation and adopt a pet. Minor complications arose. Dusty, the first adopted feline, seemed to be lonely, so the couple decided to acquire a second cat, Grace. Katok showed great ease and deftness with her between-song patter. My sense was that her text was memorized word for word, yet she made it flow in an impressively natural, relaxed, and conversational way.
Unfortunately, getting an appropriate set list for a show about cats (especially when one excludes Lloyd Webber music) is apparently not so easy. She opened with a song called “The Minnow & the Trout” (Alison Loren Sudol), which spoke about a number of earthly creatures, but not felines. A line about “whiskers on kittens” apparently qualified Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “My Favorite Things” for inclusion—and Katok added a second verse with cat-specific lyrics (author uncredited). “Times Like This” (Lynn Ahrens, Stephen Flaherty) is a song about longing for a pet dog; Katok substituted the word “cat” throughout the number, but this became problematic when a lyric spoke about teaching the pet the command “stay.” And a line about spending “thirty years together” in “Shouldn’t I Be Less in Love With You?” (Joe DiPietro, Jimmy Roberts) became truly absurd when applied to a human/cat relationship as opposed to a human/human one.
At points, though, Katok—perhaps with help from Moss and musical director David John Madore—found songs that were right on point. For instance, Craig Carnelia’s “A Kid Inside” was used to illustrate how childhood traumas breed adult neuroses (in Katok’s case, her long-standing aversion to furry creatures). “Crazy Ever After” (Kyler England, Rob Giles, Adrianne Gonzalez, Gabriel Mann) worked nicely in exploring the question of what, exactly, runs through a cat’s head as it adapts to the comings and (especially) goings of those odd, two-legged housemates.
Katok’s singing voice was warm and engaging throughout the show I attended, but there was a problem with the sound balance that worked against her and often kept her notes (and lyrics) from being appreciated. The microphone that amplified musician Elisa Winter’s cello seemed to be set so that her playing all but drowned out Katok’s voice at points. This is an easily remediable problem that Katok and Madore need to be on guard against in future outings.
“CATS!: A cabaret of friendship, love, & humanity”
Don’t Tell Mama – February 24, 26, 28
About the Author
Mark Dundas Wood is an arts/entertainment journalist and dramaturg. He began writing reviews for BistroAwards.com in 2011. More recently he has contributed "Cabaret Setlist" articles about cabaret repertoire. Other reviews and articles have appeared in theaterscene.net and clydefitchreport.com, as well as in American Theatre and Back Stage. As a dramaturg, he has worked with New Professional Theatre and the New York Musical Theatre Festival. He is currently literary manager for Broad Horizons Theatre Company.