New York City’s Algonquin Hotel, where Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker and George S. Kaufman and other famous scribes traded quips and witticisms across the Algonquin Round Table in the 1920s, was once again the place to see and be seen on Saturday, August 2—at least for the feline set. That’s when the 112-year-old hotel hosted its annual Matilda & FURiends Salute Broadway benefit, a Broadway-themed cat fashion show, named for the Algonquin’s resident cat, Matilda, that netted more than $7,000 for the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals. The International Association for Pet Fashion Professionals (IAPFP) was live on the scene.
The first stop was the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals adoption van, parked outside the hotel for the duration of the show. An organization dedicated to placing all of New York City’s homeless animals in good homes, the Alliance collaborates with more than 150 animal groups and shelters across the city, including rescue operation Bobbi & the Strays, which provided the dogs and cats available for adoption in the vehicle.
The cats and dogs up for adoption were named after Algonquin Round Table members, including an orange cat with the moniker of “Harpo Marx,” and an elegant-yet-shy black-and-grey tabby named Dorothy Parker. Among the van’s volunteers were Debbie Fierro, a transport Driver for Wheels of Hope, which transports pets at risk of being euthanized from New York City’s animal shelters to rescue groups and no-kill facilities, and Connie Shannon, the transport coordinator for Wheels of Hope.
Following a reception in the Algonquin Lobby, the fashion show got underway in a suite at the hotel. The cats, mostly dressed in duds designed by Ada Nieves, a member of IAPFP and a pioneering pet-fashions designer, portrayed characters in current popular Broadway productions, including Chicago, Hairspray, Heathers, Legally Blonde, Mamma Mia!, Matilda, Pippin, Rock of Ages, The Phantom of the Opera and Wicked. Some of the cats were shyer than others, but all looked dazzling, courtesy of Nieves. Here are some of the highlights.
The Chicago cat, Ferrara, was dressed as the show’s murderous vamp, Roxie Hart. Accentuating her black-and-white fur, she wore a red-satin gown with a 1920s sequin-and-fringe design, along with a matching sequined headpiece. As with several cats in the show, Ferrara, a professional cat model, wasn’t born with a silver spoon. According to owner Malika Samuel, she started life as a street cat.
Playing the dunderheaded football kings Kurt and Ram from cult-movie-turned-Broadway-hit Heathers were the beautiful Savannah cats Lightning and the Bear. In keeping with the play’s high school theme, the cats wore cashmere aquamarine vests with yellow plaid detailing from The Elegant Hare, run by Margaret Konecky, who makes exquisite pet clothing and furniture from recycled human clothing. Lighting and the Bear rested on matching cashmere pillows, also from The Elegant Hare.
A new breed, Savannah cats are a cross between an African Serval and a domesticated house cat, they have tall, slender bodies, big ears, and leopard-like spotted coats. There are only a few breeders of Savannahs in the world, so these felines are indeed rare beauties. Lighting and the Bear’s owner, Janet Spain, runs AList Savannahs, which originated the breed.
Much like the late, great Divine, the male actor who played Tracy Turnblad’s mother in the film version of Hairspray, Milo, who portrayed unlikely Harvard Law School grad Elle Woods from Legally Blonde, just happens to be excellent at playing female roles. As owner Aimee Henkell puts it, “Who says boys cannot wear PINK?” As Elle, Milo proves this point. Decked out in a pink tee shirt with a hot-pink color and sleeves, along with a matching beret, this feline played it to the hilt. The finishing touch, a hand-painted picture of a Chihuahua on the back of the shirt, evokes Bruiser, Woods’ faithful pup. Placed beside Milo was a stuffed Chihuahua, a reminder of her best friend, a real-life Chihuahua that Henkell adopted at the same time as Milo.
If some people thought they glimpsed Joan Jett at the show, it was an honest mistake. Karen Frewert, owner of Tigger and Cody, who portrayed Rock of Ages characters, in a black rocker tee and feathery black hair, bore a striking resemblance to the musician. Tigger and Cody, meanwhile, melded perfectly into their roles as wannabe rocker Drew and his love interest Sherrie. As Drew, Tigger wore a hand-painted harness decorated with studs and fake fur to give him a true “Bad-to-the-Bone” look, while Cody modeled a girly version of the harness. It featured a hand-painted fish skeleton, demonstrating that this was no shy hanger-on, but a fiery female rocker on her way to the top.
As one of Broadway’s longest-running shows, Phantom of the Opera was ripe for the feline treatment. On hand to give it that were Q and R2D2, the two long-haired cuties who portrayed the show’s “Angel of Music” and Phantom, respectively. As the “Angel of Music,” Q wore an 1800s-inspired French ruffled shirt in white satin with delicate white angel wings, while R2D2, as the Phantom, stormed the stage in a silver satin cape with a French ruffled collar and a cuffed shirt.
By the end of the show, both Q and R2D2 were tired, with R2D2 sneaking down with owner Zahra Meherali to take a well-deserved nap in the lobby. In the meantime, Q stayed upstairs to pose for a photo with the author and Nieves. In addition to crafting most of the designer duds for the show, Nieves also dressed up her own cat, Martini-Beethoven, as Hairspray protagonist Tracy Turnblad in a one-piece school uniform comprising a shirt and pleated skirt, with the Hairspray logo emblazoned on the back.
It was hard to miss Zeus, the cat portraying Elphaba from Wicked. A stunning gray and white Persian, he held court in an exclusive corner table, seated regally on a large royal-blue pillow. As the not-so-wicked-after-all witch, he wore a green taffeta shirt with a matching witch hat. His owner, Miguel Rodriguez, runs the Venus & Dalila Pet Spa in Jackson Heights, Queens, New York City, and puts on many fundraising events to help animals in need in the Hispanic community.
Other cats at the show included Lily, who portrayed Sophie from Mamma Mia!, Daisy, who was dressed as Matilda from Matilda, and Tara, playing the title role in Pippin. Vito Vincent, a professional animal actor and pet therapist that has appeared on Broadway, television, and in commercials, was a special guest. Resplendent on a large pillow, he wore gold satin and a very dapper top hat.
Matilda & FURiends Salute Broadway benefit also played host to Tara the Hero Cat, renowned for bravely chasing away a dog that attacked her owners’ young son. As of this writing, the YouTube video that captured Tara’s heroics and captivated the nation had 22,999,642 views. Tara, unfortunately, was not as visible in “purr-son.” When the author tried to grab a photo of her, she crawled underneath a sofa, and wouldn’t come out. It had been a long day for her, as with all the wonderful felines at this one-of-a-kind event.