You know what happens when an award winning composer loves an obscure book of cat poems by T.S. Eliot? Well, if that composer is Andrew Lloyd Webber then next thing you know you create a hit musical named CATS that lasts well over two decades.
CATS captured the hearts and imaginations of people worldwide and the most current touring revival has found a home at Broadway San Diego though April 21st.
These footloose and fancy free felines dance and sing as they introduce themselves, and talk about their talents at the Jellicle Ball. This event happens once a year where they proclaim their pride at being Jellicle cats, and their disdain for those who are not one or has never heard of them before. Cats acting aloof and judgmental? Sounds right.
The ball opens with a dance by Victoria the White Cat (Caitlin Bond), followed by the introduction of Jennyanydots (Emily Jeanne Phillips). She’s a cat who sleeps all day and then at night becomes the terror of mice and roaches everywhere; she even gets them all to tap dance.
Rum Tum Tugger (McGee Maddox) makes an extravagant entrance, full of bravado and swagger making all of the kittens on stage sigh and melt (and from the sound of it, some people in the audience too). Petty burglar cats Mungojerrie (Tony d’Alelo) and Rumpleteazer (Rose Iannaccone) burst in with acrobatics and stolen loot.
There are many cats and they all have their stories to tell. All the musical introductions are all for one purpose; for Old Deuteronomy (Brandon Michael Nase) the most revered of the cats gets to decide which one of them gets to be reborn in the Heaviside Layer.
Alas, even haughty cat aristocracy has one outcast, and that’s Grizabella the Glamour cat (Keri Rene Fuller). Now old and not resembling the glamourous cat she was in her youth the other cats shun her at the festivities. (Prioritizing youth culture in the cat world is fierce)
Before the night is over the mischievous Macavity (Tyler John Logan) makes Old Deuteronomy disappear and they turn to the Magical Mister Mistoffelees (Tion Gaston) to help him reappear through some phenomenal dancing and an astounding number of beautiful turns.
The entirety of the musical is sung, with songs ranging from comical, to more contemplative, to high energy. While some songs are more memorable than others it’s a sure bet that even if you’ve never seen this show before you know the most famous song from this musical “Memory”” sung by Grizabella.
Fuller’s version of “Memory” is gorgeous, with her strong and emotive performance wowing the audience.
With updated choreography from Andy Blankenbuehler adding some modern touches of hip hop and jazz, and a sharper sound design this tour has only improved upon time.
Much like the animal, there are CATS people and there aren’t. It was created during what we can call Webber’s “experimental period;” a moment in time where everything from the Bible, cats, and toy trains can serve as inspiration for a show. EVITA and JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR had already hit the stage when CATS debuted but PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and STARLIGHT EXPRESS had yet to make their debut. You can hear some of those influences in a few of the songs still. It’s the most noticeable lurking in the background of the song “Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat” there are hints of STARLIGHT EXPRESS (the musical about trains that premiered right after this one in the 1980’s).
Set in a junkyard (scenic design by John Napier) and gorgeous lighting (by Natsha Katz) give the perfect place for the cats to play. Though I did keep waiting for any of the cats to be distracted by the moving lights and start chasing one – is that really too much to ask?
CATS is playing through April 21st at Broadway San Diego. For ticket and show time information go to www.broadwaysd.com