MAY 2023 | Volume 227
The company of the 2021-2022 national tour of CATS (Photo By Matthew Murphy, Murphymade).
by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Broadway Across Canada
Queen Elizabeth Theatre
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats is hardly a play. It’s a phenomenon. Having kicked off the megamusical craze in 1982, it ran for 18 years in London, 21 years on Broadway, and has grossed over $4 billion worldwide. It’s also hardly a play in that it has no dialogue—it’s sung and danced but not spoken—and barely a plot to speak of, if you can figure it out. But it’s a cool show to watch for the visual spectacle, the splendid choreography and great dancing.
Webber and the original London director, Trevor Nunn, put the show together from T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (1939), a series of poems depicting the nocturnal doings of a group of what Eliot calls Jellicle cats with eccentric names: Jellylorum, Coricopat, Mistoffelees. Lloyd Webber’s Cats tells an arcane story about these characters, but it’s practically impossible to figure out what it is from the show’s lyrics, most of which you can’t make out in the muddy sound of the choral singing and full orchestra from this Broadway Across Canada touring production. Not to worry. The story is of little importance. If you want to follow it, read the Wikipedia entry for Cats the musical.
You can safely ignore the story if you want because Cats is an absolute feast for the eyes. John Napier’s backstreet garbage cans set and his varied cats costumes for the two dozen or more felines are glorious. Natasha Katz’s kaleidoscopic lighting adds to the magic. And this young touring company cast fling themselves and their lithe, powerful, flexible bodies with gusto into Andy Blankenbuehler’sextravagant, muscular choreography, based on the original by choreographer Gillian Lynn. If you’re a fan of Lloyd Webber’s music (I’m not), so much the better. And the show’s one blockbuster song, “Memory,” sung by the down-and-out glamour cat Grizabella (Tayler Harris), is a bonus.
But the dancers are breathtaking. There are a few notable solos and pas de deux: the balletic all-white kitten Victoria (Rachael Haber), the showboating Elvis-like Rum Tum Tugger (Hank Santos), the troublemaking duo of Mungojerrie (Brian Craig Nelson) and Rumpleteazer (Taryn Smithson), the tapdancing wonder Jennyanydots (Michelle E. Carter), and the magical Mr. Mistoffelees (Ibn Snell), whose lightning-quick spins highlight the second act. But the frequent choral numbers, when the full stage is alive with all the dancers in beautiful, rapid, fluid movement, at top speed, are in some ways more powerful and impressive. Cats is by no means a star vehicle. The ensemble is really the star. Watch how dynamic the stage is, how precise the movement, and imagine how much rehearsal must have gone into making all that work.
If you like Cirque du Soleil, beautiful human bodies doing remarkable things, you’ll like these cats.
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