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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 20, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 16
CATS still purring loudly
Arts & Entertainment
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CATS still purring loudly

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN Contributing Writer

CATS Paramount Theatre
Through April 22


CATS is the hit musical based on a collection of children's poems penned by the late T.S. Eliot. After Andrew Lloyd Webber decided to set Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats to music in 1979, the beloved anthology became a mega-smash musical taking the West End, Broadway, and the world by storm. Tagged with the subtitle 'Now and Forever,' the musical has been pleasing crowds for over 30 years and has become the second-longest-running Broadway musical in American history.

The set is simple and appropriate; it's a giant junkyard with a tire at its center. There are plenty of little holes for these cats to climb in and around. This is the place that the Jellicle cats, those magical and secretive feline creatures of the night, gather to play, meet, and discuss which of them will go to the 'Heaviside Layer' - the cat equivalent of Heaven - to be reborn. And those up for consideration are as varied as there are breeds. There is no one particular star of this show as most of the major cats have their own solos. Watching the supporting cats is half the entertainment. They all are playful, and while the main cats are being presented, the supporting cast roll, play, and clean themselves as any cat would do.

Then there are the cats being presented. There is the unofficial leader, Old Deuteronomy (Nathan Morgan), who judges the Jellicle competition, and a magical/mystical cat named Mistoffelees (played by Chaz Wolcott) who does an incredible dance number in the second act. Balancing on one foot (paw?), Wolcott spins for over 25 consecutive turns without stopping, a dance move that is impressive and beautiful to watch. There is also a train cat, Skimbleshanks (Louie Napoleon), and even a team of mischievous and playful cat burglars named Mungojerrie (Daniel Switzer) and Rumpleteazer (Hillary Porter). The unofficial narrator is Munkustrap played by Daniel J. Self. Self's voice is strong, as a narrator's should be. He invites the audience to join in and begins by explaining about the task of naming a cat. Rum Tum Tugger is played by Chris Stevens. The Tugger is a sort of rock 'n' roll cat that sings, gyrates, and charms the female felines. But without fail, it is the final scene of Act I and then the climax of Act II that everyone in the audience waits for.

The main feline here is Grizabella, the former 'glamour cat' who is past her prime and who is shunned by the others, who sense her fading allure. It is then that Grizabella makes her sad appearance and sings about her past. Melissa Grohowski plays Grizabella. Her appearance at the end of Act I installs hesitation from the other cats as they are not wanting to take her back into their fold, and they all look away. Even as she sings (the few bars that will turn into 'Memory' in the second half) about her former life, the other cats shy away. It is only Old Deuteronomy who sees the glory she once possessed and the happiness she craves. When the song is sung at the end, Grohowski does it well. She slowly builds with a haunting refrain until the climax. As the music builds, she lets out her gloriously powerful instrument that allows the audience feel her pain as she sings, 'Touch me / It's so easy to leave me / all alone with the memory of / my days in the sun&.'

The musical is definitely a family-safe show; there are no foul words or sexual situations (unless you count the gyrations of Rum Tum Tugger), and it is perfectly enjoyable for all ages. This production decided not to include 'The Awful Battle of the Pekes and the Pollicles,' a song/dance number (and poem by Eliot) that shows a confrontation between the Jellicle cats and the Pollicle dogs. As this number usually slows down the slight storyline that is present, it's a filler piece that isn't really missed. There are enough dance sequences in this show to make up for it.

CATS first opened in London in 1981 and instantly became a huge success. The megahit moved to Broadway in 1982 and decided to stay for almost 30 years, running for 7,485 performances. While the London cast introduced Sarah Brightman and Elaine Paige to the mass public, the Broadway turn helped to make Betty Buckley (Eight Is Enough) and Harry Groener (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) common names to Broadway and television fans alike. Nominated for 11 Tony Awards in 1983, the musical won seven, including Best Musical, Best Original Score, and Best Featured Actress. The song 'Memory' would go on to become a classic of theater and would cross over onto the pop charts, being recorded by some of the greatest artists in the world.

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