BWW Review: CATS at Shubert Theatre
While I have heard wonderful things about the musical CATS and about the Shubert Theatre in New Haven, CT, I had never experienced either until March 5, 2020, when both far exceeded my expectations when I saw this musical masterpiece phenomenally performed by an extraordinary cast, to a packed audience representing numerous demographics, leaving us all united with an amazing memory of such an incredible theatrical experience!
The theatre looks like a Broadway theatre, complete with multiple levels and a large stage. At the same time, I am happy to report that the seats are more roomy than in many Broadway theatres, so no one feels crammed in. The set is spectacular, depicting the night sky and full moon in the background, with multiple levels on the sides. Lighting effects enhance the set. The full stage is brilliantly utilized in this production.
The music is composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber, with the book based on a story from T.S. Eliot. The brilliant directing by Trevor Nunn combines with Andy Blankenbuehler's stunning choreography which is based on the original choreography by Gillian Lynne, to help bring this exhilarating musical to life. While the story is primarily carried by the music, without significant dialogue between songs, it is the dancing and stage theatrics that make this show stand out! Entrances are made through the house aisles, from backstage, and even one that comes down from the stage ceiling and lands center stage! Among the acrobatics are slides, flips, cartwheels, a full split, and even two cast members (Ben Sears and Adriana Negron as Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer respectively) flawlessly cartwheeling across the stage together, while holding onto each other! The dancing is synchronized and coordinated with remarkable precision. This is clearly a cast with extreme levels of talent and high enjoyment of their roles in the show, radiating positive energy that flows through each other with amazing stage chemistry, and out to the audience, keeping us all enthralled.
A talented live band directed and conducted by Eric Kang, while remaining invisible to the audience, still positively impact us with their wonderful instrumentation that accompanies the singers, and is often breathtaking on its own, in the moments without lyrics. The powerhouse vocals of Donna Vivino as Grizabella are so spectacular on the show's most popular song, "Memory," that the audience provided a full applause while the song was being sung, something I've never witnesses before, not even on Broadway! Donna Vivino kept total professionalism and continued singing with feeling, even throughout the applause. Nevada Riley, as Sillabub, provides angelic vocals that also work extremely well with "Memory," and its melody as heard earlier in Act 2, a fascinating and brilliantly effective dynamic of two amazing vocalists with two very different yet both spectacular voices, both performing vocal solos on the same melody in the same show.
While "Memory," which in some capacity (at least melodically) appears four different times during the show is clearly the most moving number, Andrew Lloyd Webber's song-writing also includes some other strong numbers. "Shimbleshanks the Railway Cat" is reminiscent of "Poor Poor Joseph" from Andrew Lloyd Webber's earlier work Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Meanwhile, many moments that Old Deuteronomy sings lead provide a foreshadowing of the amazing songwriting that Andrew Lloyd Webber would later show in The Phantom of the Opera. As Old Deuteronomy, Adam Richardson provides powerful and moving vocals.
Also rounding out this spectacular cast are Adam Vanek, McGee Maddox, Elyse Collier, Jordan Betscher, Maurice Dawkins, Alexa Racioppi, Annemarie Rosano, Dani Goldstein, PJ DiGaetano, Zachary S. Berger, Timothy Gulan, Brayden Newby, Brett Michael Lockley, Giovanni DiGabriele, Melody Rose, Cameron Edris, Caitlin Bond, Madison Mitchell, Nathan Patrick Morgan, Zachary Tallman, Tricia Tanguy, Erin Chupinsky, Alex Dorf, Devin Hatch, Charlotte O'Dowd, Austin Joseph Reynolds, and Loretta Williams.
I believe that the reason CATS had lasted so long on Broadway is that the show has a universal appeal to every age, with the ability to captivate audiences with the stage theatrics, regardless of whether audience members grasp the storyline. This is the type of show that parents can safely bring their children to, without fear of exposing them to anything scary, vulgar, or otherwise inappropriate.
I highly recommend CATS, which is scheduled to continue to run at the Shubert Theatre in New Haven, CT, through March 8, 2020. For times and tickets, please call the box office at 203-562-5666 or go to http://shubert.com.