BWW Review: CATS is PAWSitively PURRfect at Dallas Summer Musicals
Onstage Through November 19
It's been 38 years since Andrew Lloyd Webber's mega-hit CATS made its stage debut. 42 years earlier, T.S. Eliot had unknowingly penned the musical's lyrics in Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, his 1939 collection of feline inspired poetry. While his poems were an unexpected source material for a song-and-dance operetta, the family-friendly musical quickly became a Broadway landmark, adopting the tagline "Now and Forever" during its impressive 18-year New York City run.
Critics of the show argue that the musical's plot is either nonexistent or hard to follow. Through a series of pop ballads and dance tune, CATS offers snapshot views of different cat-racters all vying to ascend to the "Heavyside Layer" where they'll be reborn to a new Jellicle life. Like another Broadway dance classic, A CHORUS LINE (or even Texas-favorite HANDS ON A HARDBODY), the format of CATS follows a series of character-identifying stories pursuing the grand prize of a competition.
But what CATS is deservedly celebrated for is its incredibly technical choreography and memorable score. And here's where this touring company radiantly shines. Currently on stage at Dallas Summer Musicals, the cast of CATS (say that 10 times fast) is essentially purrfect. Never before has a professional CATS company so successfully danced the show without sacrificing such high-quality vocals. Not a moment in the show aims for a high bar it cannot reach, and it endlessly soars.
The original Broadway Company of CATS starred Broadway legend (and DFW's own) Betty Buckley in the coveted role of Grizabella, the cat who owns the anthem "Memory." Filling those kitten heels is not a small feat, especially in the hometown of its Broadway creator, but Keri René Fuller (Broadway's WAITRESS) inarguably hits it out of the park. With her uniquely layered spin on the ostracized Jellicle who has fallen from grace and glamour, Fuller breathes an indescribable fresh energy into the iconic cat. When she finally belts out "Memory," her rich vocals bring the house to both tears and cheers. On press night, Fuller received a partial standing ovation mid-show, which often only appears in theatre folklore.
An impeccable ensemble of stars-in-the-making joins Fuller in the larger-than-life junkyard. Most notable performances are made by Brandon Michael Nase (Old Deuteronomy), Dan Hoy (Munkustrap), McGee Maddox (Rum Tum Tugger) and PJ DiGaetano (Mistoffellees) who, along with the rest of the cast, all deserve extremely high praise. Hats off to director Trevor Nunn and musical director Eric Kang for expertly leading the touring troupe beyond the level of their Broadway predecessors.
While this revised version of CATS updates a handful of musical numbers and includes some refreshed choreography (staged by HAMILTON's Andy Blankenbuehler), it's still Gillian Lynn's original dances and John Napier's classic costumes and scenery that create the iconic magic behind the music.
CATS may not ever please all audiences, but this company is sure to convince the doubters while winning over the hearts of new audiences across the country. But unlike the original production, it's onstage for a limited time.
CATS continues through November 19 at the Music Hall at Fair Park as part of Dallas Sumer Musicals' 2019-20 season. For tickets and more information, visit www.DallasSummerMusicals.org.