Review: CATS at San Jose Center For The Performing Arts

Now on stage thru September 25. Get your tickets now!

By: Sep. 22, 2022
Review: CATS at San Jose Center For The Performing Arts
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Frolicking felines took the stage last night in all their graceful and quirky glory, bringing the Andrew Lloyd Webber classic CATS to life once again at Broadway San Jose where it will be playing now through September 25. The fantastical, magical world of London's Jellicle cats who are gathered together for their yearly Jellicle Ball still has the power to transfix and delight even now, forty-one years after it first opened on Broadway.

CATS starts off with an introduction to all the junkyard cat characters (with very human personalities) and we're told that they each have three names, one of which the cat will never share with another living soul. No matter, because the ones we do learn are quite enchanting. Among them are Jennyanydots (Michelle E. Carter), Rum Tug Tugger (Hank Santos is the 'Elvis' of the cats), Gus, the Theatre Cat (John Anker Bow), Skimbleshanks (John Zamborsky) and, of course, Old Deuteronomy (the illustrious Cameron Schutza) along with Macavity (Sam Buchanan) and Grizabella, the Glamour Cat (a memorable Tayler Harris).

T.S. Eliot's genius for whimsy is dazzlingly brought to life with Andrew Lloyd Webber's soaring score that provides a variety of musical motifs, cleverly capturing the individuality of each cat that we meet as they prepare for the yearly Jellicle Ball. It is there that the wise and kindly Old Deuteronomy will choose one lucky cat to journey to the Heaviside Layer, a kind of cat heaven, there to be "reborn" into a new life. But before that final conclusion comes, we are treated to all manner of cats in the junkyard (set and costumes by John Napier) and they are a joy to behold. Andy Blankenbuehler's choreography, which he based on Gillian Lynne's original work from over two decades ago, still astounds. The cat affectations -- the sliding and rolling and rubbing against each other -- together with delicate ballet and smooth jazz elements work beautifully. And the dancers! Triple threats all, their catlike, graceful and lithe bodies almost defy gravity.

Lighting, designed by Natasha Katz was, in a word, spectacular, and contributed immensely to the overall magic (though the followspot operator had some hiccups). Napier's imaginative junkyard set created the world of the Jellicle cats, while his giant moon bathed in dusky clouds held prominence for the entire show. Sadly, the moon backdrop had a giant wrinkle across it, but that was forgotten in the high energy of the show. Mick Potter's sound design defined the space, creating with sound, the ambience of the junkyard world of CATS.

As Old Deuteronomy prepares to make his choice, Harris' Grizabella reprises "Memory," one last time. Her rendition is plaintive, softly sweeping upward as she sings of how beautiful her life used to be. Then, treading slowly across the stage after being shunned by all of her tribe, her voice drops to the depths of despair before ending on a note of hope. "If you touch me, you'll understand what happiness is/Look, a new day has begun," she sings even as her head drops and she leaves the stage. This song is still definitely the highlight of the show.

CATS was a groundbreaking show when it first made its way across the pond from London's West End in the '80s. It's large, dynamic effects and elaborate staging stunned audiences and kept CATS on Broadway for a record-breaking 7,485 performances. If you look too closely at its separate parts you'll see through the thin storyline. Ostensibly the plot centers on the annual Jellicle Ball and the question of which one of them will ascend to the Heaviside Layer, there to be reborn into a new life. However, the cats don't seem to be competing with each other. Rather, they spend time introducing themselves to the audience, sharing both positive and negative traits, seemingly to amuse the audience until Old Deuteronomy shows up to make his choice. But if you sit back and take it all in as a whole, then you will be transported. CATS definitely has staying power, which is incontestable proof of its singular magical powers - to paraphrase Eliot!

Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Based on "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats" by T.S. Eliot
Broadway San Jose
Now thru September 25
Photo courtesy of Matthew Murphy for Murphymade