Animal act reviews

The Amazing Acro-Cats in Madison

Mom and I just got back from the much-anticipated performance of the Amazing Acro-Cats, which has been getting a ton of pre-show buzz among my Madison-area Facebook friends. Not only a “cat show”–as if that isn’t enough– Acro-Cats turns out to be a multi-species extravaganza headed by talented Chicago-area clicker trainer, Samantha Martin. (For my many friends that have attended Bob Bailey’s “Chicken Camp,” I discovered that Samantha is a fellow graduate.)

The stage of the Bartell Theater, in downtown Madison, teased arrivals with the sight of dozens of attractive and unique trick props, all color coordinated in purple and silver. The theater was completely sold out, and the crowd was good-natured and curious about how the cats would perform.

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Once the show started, Samantha and several assistants were kept busy wrangling animal talent that included 19 cats, several rats, a groundhog and a chicken named Cluck Norris. The show started with the opposite of a bang, as the groundhog, Garfield, did not initially head to his prop microphone to introduce the show. No problem. Samantha and crew came prepared with a series of funny gags,  including a sign saying “It’s a groundhog,” and a sound effect of crickets chirping. These good-natured responses to non-compliance were used to humorous effect throughout the show. Garfield finally did his bit, and the show kicked off with a series of rope walks and platform jumps by rats and cats.

The show was loaded with humor–mostly intentional!–and the handlers were obviously used to dealing with a herd of somewhat unpredictable animals.The audience was told to expect some cats to leave the stage and wander in the audience, and a couple of them did. The show moved on immediately to the next performer, and returned to the wandering cats when they happened to return to the stage. There was a good mix of experienced/reliable animals and a few newbies, the latter of which were grouped together in the first half of the performance.

The evening’s stunts included double and single tightrope walking, platform jumps, bell ringing, a “leap of death” from a high platform, catching treats with paws, balancing on balls and barrels, and many more. My favorite was a three-cat trick involving a row of candlesticks. One cat balanced on the center stick, another ran across the tops of the sticks and jumped over him, and another cat weaved through the sticks like agility weave poles. Cluck Norris and Tuna the cat were pitted against one another in bell-ringing and bowling competitions, which the chicken won handily.The cat performers were also introduced one at a time, including a brief story of how they came into rescue: for example, left in a cooler in a parking lot, or orphaned by a coyote at 2 days of age. All of the cats were fostered and adopted by Samantha, and live as her personal pets at home. Samantha has also fostered over 100 cats that were adopted by other people.

The final act was the “world’s only cat band,” which featured cats actually making sounds using a guitar, piano, drums, a cowbell and chimes. Cluck Norris did an admirable and workmanlike job playing tambourine and cymbals. At the end of the show, the entire audience was invited to come on stage, pet two of the cats and the groundhog, and take photos with the cat band at no charge.

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The Acro-cats will be in Madison through Sunday, Nov. 13th.If you can get a ticket, don’t miss your chance to see very funny and action-packed performance. Not only is the show a wonderful evening of entertainment for all ages, but a portion of the proceeds go to Dane County Friends of Ferals, a local cat rescue group.

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