By Larry Laneer
May 22, 2019
The singing cats are back. No harm in that. In fact, this might be good time to reevaluate the show, which has established itself in the repertory, no matter what you think of singing cats. The results come in mixed.
Can you believe Cats is almost 40 years old? It’s safe to say few performers in the current production, now at the Thelma Gaylord under the auspices of OKC Broadway, were alive when the show opened in London in 1981. It was revived on Broadway in 2016, and this is the touring version of that production.
The weakness with Cats is it isn’t about anything; it tells no story. Or not much of a story, anyway. The composer Andrew Lloyd Webber based this sung-through musical on T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. Thus, the show consists of songs and dance numbers that rely heavily on spectacle. They may occupy your attention while you are watching them, but only bits and pieces stick with you.
Granted, Lloyd Webber has written a tuneful score. He employs various musical styles from the last century, including jazz, blues, rhythm and blues, rock, pop, and what you could call showtunes. More than once, I caught myself tapping my toes to the music. A fine, but skimpy, nine-piece pit orchestra accompanies the production. But four of the nine musicians play keyboards. That’s almost half the orchestra! This band sorely needs full brass and reed sections, especially for the long dance numbers.
The English director Trevor Nunn, who staged the original production, also helms this version. Andy Blankenbuehler did the choreography, and he draws from both ballet and acrobatics for the dances. These cats not only sing, but they also tap dance a little. John Napier designed the scenery and costumes. His scenic design depicts the cats’ junkyard home but mainly leaves space centerstage for the dancing and singing. His sumptuous, at times glowing, costumes are a highlight of the production. Natasha Katz’s lighting design fully reflects the technological advances of recent years. So many colors from one small bulb.
Eliot has provided Lloyd Webber with a lot of words to set to music. This show needs strong singers and dancers, and the present cast does a nice job, but too many lyrics are unintelligible, especially in the choruses. The show does have its musical moments, to wit, the mystical harmonies of “Old Deuteronomy.” The second act’s “Magical Mister Mistoffelees” features the admirable dancing of Tion Gaston. The sweet, poignant “Gus the Theatre Cat” tells the story of Asparagus (Andy Michael Zimmermann at the reviewed performance).
It’s a pleasure to report the much-covered “Memory” stands the test of time. If you don’t believe me, ask whoever was whistling the tune in the men’s room at intermission. Cats fanatics who have been wondering if the current production keeps the levitating tire for “Memory” may rest assured the tire levitates. Then, we see Grizabella (Keri René Fuller) going up into the welkin accompanied by a heavenly chorus. A fine line separates dramatic from cheesy.
|Cats by Andrew Lloyd Webber (music), based on Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by
7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, 8:00 p.m. Friday, 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Saturday,
2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m Sunday, through May 26
Thelma Gaylord Performing Arts Theatre, Civic Center Music Hall
201 N. Walker Ave.