I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking what does this guy know about cats? He’s a dog person. I’m here to tell you that dog people are people too! We still like music, spectacle, and dancing and all that stuff just the same as any cat person. If you scratch me do I not scream Yeoww!!? The answer is yes, yes I do. I suspect many of you saw I was reviewing Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats and were expecting it to read like the aftermath of an especially vicious catfight. Cats the fourth longest running show in Broadway history is the original love it or hate it musical. It’s been about 30 years since I first saw a touring production in Grand Forks N.D. and probably close to that long since I’ve listened to the cast album. I don’t really remember what I thought of that production all those years ago. I am conscious that in the intervening years that I have joined the club of eye rollers whenever it comes up, and always laugh knowingly when a joke is made at its expense. But, I did have some “Memory” of the album being in regular rotation, and as is always the case, I wanted to go in with an open mind. Having revisited the show I can say while I don’t LOVE Cats, I did find it to be a purrfectly entertaining show. I’m glad I went in hoping to enjoy and not looking to claw it to shreds. Sorry to disappoint but if that’s your thing, check out my review of Fire in the New World.
Cats is the musical based on Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot. with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and the lyrics coming from Eliot’s book of poems with assists from the shows original director Trevor Nunn and Richard Stilgoe. The story such as it is occurs during one magical night when the Jellicle cats gathers for the Jellicle ball. The purpose of this yearly gathering is to decide which cat will be reborn. It’s really a thread on which to introduce different cats and sing songs about them. There’s a bit of intrigue when Old Deuteronomy, the leader of the Jellicle Cats, is kidnapped by Macavity, The Mystery Cat. Luckily, Magical Mister Mistoffelees turns up and somehow makes Old Deuteronomy reappear, making all the cats and myself, an admitted dog person, believe in magic. The plot really isn’t important though, the songs about the cats are what the show is really about. I had no memory of Gus the Theatre Cat, I suppose his song didn’t hold much interest to a 20 year old, but now we are 50 and immersed in theater and it really touched me in a surprising way.
There is a lot to be enjoyed in Cats, the music is silly at times and serious at others and for the most part they are good songs. The dancing is fantastic, there is a moment when these two crazy cats Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer are joined together and do a cartwheel across the stage. Those two cats, they’re always getting up to stuff, and their family, they don’t know which one did it, but they know it was one of them. I think those cats would be a lot of fun at parties, and that Mistoffelees Cat? Forget about it, no one would ever leave. The whole cast is great but I do want to single out a few of stand outs. First, Tayler Harris as Grizabella, when she sings her final rendition of “Memory” it got a little dusty in the theater. Second, when Cameron Schutza as Old Deuteronomy takes the stage he commands it with a rich booming voice. Ibn Snell As Mistoffelees is the most graceful magician ever. And John anker Bow, who along with playing Gus the Theatre Cat also plays Bustopher Jones the round well dressed cat in spats. All of these performers as well as the entire cast will wow you with their dancing as well. The choreography is by Andy Blankenbuehler based upon the original choreography by Gillian Lynn, and it is breathtaking, particularly I imagine for those having to perform it.
The show doesn’t coast on just some cute cat songs and fancy paw work. Visually it’s a treat for the eyes as well as the ears. I loved the Costume and Set Design by John Napier. Particularly, the backdrop of the moon with the clouds streaking diagonally across it which took on so many different looks based on the brilliant Lighting Design by Natasha Katz. There are special effects and costumes that light up and it really is rather enchanting. You have to leave your cynicism at the door. This is a musical about dancing cats, it’s a fantasy meant to charm and entertain us and it accomplishes that quite pawily.
This is a great show to take kids who are interested in cats and theater or dance aged 8 and up to. Cats runs through October 30th at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis for more information and to purchase tickets go to https://hennepintheatretrust.org/broadway/
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