BWW Review: Broadway Across Canada's Touring Production of CATS Proves Its Enduring Appeal
The touring production of CATS has changed in the more than fifteen years since I first saw it, but all of the elements that make the Andrew Lloyd Webber show a classic remain intact. The set is fairly simple: a junkyard where the cats congregate to celebrate the annual Jellicle Ball, when Old Deuteronomy (Adam Richardson) will choose which cat goes to the Heaviside Layer to be reborn.
There are many contenders for the coveted position. We have Jennyanydots (Dani Goldstein), the seemingly lazy Gumbie cat who sleeps all day but works hard all night, demonstrated in a wonderful tap dancing sequence replete with a roaring twenties style flapper outfit. Then, there is the Rum Tum Tugger (McGee Maddox), the narcissistic, spoiled cat with the sexy swagger, who is a favourite of the lady-cats. Grizabella (Donna Vivino), the once glamourous cat, is now past her prime and ostracized by the others. Gus, the Theatre Cat (Timothy Gulan) who, when aided by a toothful of gin, regales the audience with stories of his illustrious career on the stage, acting alongside theatre greats, and how he once even "understudied Dick Whittington's cat". The Magical Mister Mistoffelees (PJ DiGaetano) shows off his impressive tricks and manages to conjure Old Deuteronomy, who was kidnapped by Macavity (Brayden Newby), the nefarious "Napoleon of crime".
Okay, so the plot is, perhaps, a little odd and the story may be disjointed. This is only natural, considering that the musical is based on a collection of whimsical poems written by T.S. Elliot for children. I think the reason CATS remains so popular after nearly forty years is because of the level of detail given to each character, from the costumes and make-up to each cat's story as they are introduced one by one, song by song, to the audience. Even the chorus cats have their own personalities. There is truly something for everyone in this show.
The updated lighting (Natasha Katz) is spectacular. The junkyard lights extend the stage further into the audience's space and the dramatic lighting when the chosen cat ascends to the Heaviside Layer adds to the emotion of the moment. Mistoffelees' incredible lighted jacket almost has a life of its own. The costumes (John Napier) and makeup (Victoria Tinsman) have also been refreshed and are now more modern and sleek.
The original choreography, by the Late Gillian Lynne, has been updated by Andy Blankenbuehler and the athleticism on display is simply amazing. The dancing styles are varied throughout the show, from jazz to tap to ballet. Caitlin Bond, in the role of Victoria, is phenomenal. Like many of her cast mates, she is a trained ballet dancer and she pulls off the physically demanding part with ease.
The orchestra, led by Eric Kang, was superb. Certain songs, most notably "The Rum Tum Tugger", have been updated to give a grittier, almost rock 'n roll, feel to them and Maddox pulled off his character to perfection. All of the songs are catchy, from the upbeat "Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats" and "Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat" to the heavyweight, "Memory", which was given enormous depth and emotion by Vivino. After she finished, the show had to pause for a moment because of the overwhelming response from the audience. Standing ovations at the curtain call were entirely well deserved.
I hope the negative press that the 2019 motion picture has received will not prevent audiences from seeing this production. The updates have modernized CATS for a new generation and it is easy to see why this show continues to captivate audiences around the world.
CATS is at Ottawa's National Arts Centre's Southam Hall through March 15, 2020. For more information or to buy tickets, go to https://ottawa.broadway.com/shows/cats.
UPDATE March 13, 2020: Due to recent events, Broadway Across Canada and the National Arts Centre have postponed all remaining performances of CATS in Ottawa. If you have already purchased tickets, please hold on to your tickets. Broadway Across Canada is working to bring CATS back to Ottawa soon.