Metallica made ‘St. Anger,’ Dave Matthews Band made ‘Stand Up,’ U2 made ‘No Line On the Horizon,’ and….
Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote the music for ‘CATS.’
What do all of these music collections have in common? None of these are “bad.” (After all, taste in any art, especially music, is subjective). However, all of these leave consumers of said art scratching their collective heads.
In the case of ‘CATS,’ the lingering question of “What the heck did I just watch?” is not uncommon amongst those exiting the theater.
In fairness to Sir Lloyd Webber, ‘CATS’ is far more than its music. In fact, the over-the-top costumes, choreography, and all-around silliness of it all sees the music taking a backseat.
What’s not taking a backseat is the elaborateness of this production and the talent on the stage. While what is actually happening in the story might not always be clear, when has anything any cat has ever done made sense?
Based on T.S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cat” book of poems, this sung-through musical puts theater patrons in the mindset of being a cat. Breaking the fourth wall, the cast actually acknowledges the presence of an audience. Combined with oversize shoes, cars, bedposts, and discarded human items it’s easy for the audience to feel like they are joining these felines on this starry night.
It is said that cats have nine lives, but does that mean they have nine afterlives? The main point of this story is that a gang of self-proclaimed Jellicle (or, for this engagement, JelliCLE? (See what I did there?)) cats are going to be sending one of their own to the Heaviside Layer. While the Heaviside Layer is actually a layer of the earth’s ionosphere, in the play, it is an afterlife for cats, that once chosen, be reborn as a better cat. While the decision to go there is left to other cats, it does seem to be a favorable place for cats to want to go.
Confused? HA! Promise. You aren’t the only one.
The musical is fun, silly, and compiled of a number of talented adults dressed like award-winning entrants into the third-grade Halloween Costume pageants. The musical starts out with the glowing eyes of cats staring into the crows, in only the way a cat intent on asking for food or ending a life might,
Munkustrap (Kade Wright) is our story’s main narrator and storyteller.
(Read our pre-engagement interview with Wright: HERE!)
While he helps keep the story together, his performances come and go through the night. Starting off with “Invitation to the Jellicle Ball,” Wright kicks off the show with his performance. He returns for the ever-famous, “Memory,” a song instantly recognizable to all in attendance.
The majority of the musical is not one solid, cohesive story, but weaves through the stories of various characters.
Rum Tug Tugger (Hank Santos) ((Who comes up with these names?)) is a curious cat, who’s also self-centered. Santos (who has most recently been seen in Chorus Line and The Sponge Bob Squarepants Musical), was a lot of fun to watch on stage. While his character is a little mischievous, Santos wows everyone with his performance of none the song, appropriately titled “Rum Tum Tugger.” (Remember when I said he is self-centered?). While not a true solo bu definition, it was a song designed for Santos to steal the spotlight.
The king of the cats is Old Deuteronomy (Cameron Schutza). Deuteronomy is a cat who has lived over 99 lives and has many wives. It will ultimately be Deuteronomy who chooses which cat will be “chosen” to be sent to the Heaviside Layer. (The other way of looking at it picks out who gets killed.) Schutza both starts and ends the second act with performances of, “Introduction to Act II/The Moments of Happiness,” and ends with the “The Ad-dressing of Cats.“
Grizabella (Tayler Harris) is the unkempt cat that left the Jellicle Cats years ago. She is far from the favorite and is honestly not liked by the rest of the gang. However, she wants to be let back in. While the audience meets her during Harris’ performance of “Entry of Grizabella,'” it doesn’t hold a candle to her performance of the fan-favorite “Memory.” Harris instantly becomes everyone’s favorite with her sensational voice. It is easy to forget that is being sung by a grown adult dressed like a cat that wants to be sacrificed.
And, sacrificed she is! Grizabella IS the chosen one. She is selected to be the one to leave this earth for the Heaviside Layer and be reborn. This can be enjoyed during “Journey to the Heaviside Layer.“
While the stage is purposely designed with oversized props and over-the-top large backgrounds, giving us the impression that these cats are small and the world is big, there is nothing small about his musical. This show is a combination of raw musical talent and athletic performances. There are times when one might feel like they are witnessing a Cirque du Soleil show. These actors have to do all of this while wearing an unrecognizable amount of makeup and, of course, let’s not forget… A tail!
While it might be hard to capture the intricacies of the plot line, it’s possible to understand just enough to enjoy this longtime classic.
Gillian Lynne was originally responsible for the choreography, Andy Blankenbuehler has reimagined and updated it for this tour. I may never fully understand how poems from 1939 would later be turned into songs, and then even later, a musical, and then be reimagined so many times, take the world by storm and then turned into a movie, would end up in the great city of Cleveland, but I’m glad it has! I had a wonderful time seeing amazingly talented cast tell ridiculous stories full of silly names.