BWW Review: CATS is Still the Cat's Meow
The national tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber's hit musical CATS has kicked off in Providence and, based on Thursday night's performance, this revival is in exceedingly fine form.
A polarizing show amongst musical theatre fans, Cats has nevertheless been a wild success since its original run opened on Broadway in 1982. Not only did the show garner 7 Tony awards, including Best Musical, but it also went on to become one of the longest running musicals of all time. The revival, which this tour mirrors, played for about a year during the 2016-2017 season.
The overarching plot of the show concerns a group of "Jellicle cats" who gather together once a year, at which point one of them is chosen to go up to the "Heaviside layer" and be reborn. The majority of the show is thus a series of songs showcasing the different cats and their quirky personalities until it is time for the fateful decision to be made (and yes, that's when the song "Memory" comes into play).
With new choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler (notably, the choreographer for Hamilton), updated lighting and sound design, and an amazingly talented cast, this production is nothing short of magical. Blankenbuehler's choreography builds upon Gillian Lynne's original concepts and the cast excels at this unique style mashup.
Some particular standouts include McGee Maddox, who brings the perfect level of swagger to the Rum Tum Tugger's song and in the scenes that he is prominent in throughout the show. Tion Gaston's Mr. Mistoffelees deftly performs the turns and jumps required in his song, while wearing the best and brightest light-up costume in the show. As the solid white kitten Victoria, Caitlin Bond stands out as a strong balletic dancer, and her reactions every time "Queen Victoria" is mentioned are adorable. Last but definitely not least is Keri René Fuller as Grizabella. Although she does not get as much stage time as many of the other cats, each of her appearances is memorable and often heartbreaking. Her rendition of "Memory" late in Act II is powerfully belted and extremely moving.
The classic junkyard set features plenty of places for the cast to enter and exit from, to lounge about on or traverse. Lights are still strung up from the stage throughout the theatre, and lighting effects are used to great purpose in several of the songs, most notably "Magical Mister Mistoffelees." If you happen to be seated in the front rows of the orchestra section, be prepared for the actors to be alongside you on more than one occasion, and not just during the Overture of the show. The score is played live by a small orchestra conducted by Eric Kang.
Cats remains a captivating evening of theatre for audiences of all ages, and will be playing at the Providence Performing Arts Center through Sunday. For ticket information, please call (401) 421 - ARTS.
Photo Credit: The National Tour Company of CATS. Photo by Matthew Murphy. 2019.