BWW Review: CATS at the Paramount - They Sing, They Dance, That's About It
Dear Readers, let me start off by saying, I am not a fan of "Cats". Neither the musical nor the animal (it would seem I'm allergic to both). Way back, when I was a young musical theater geek, I saw one of the early tours and I remember sitting there during the opening number perplexed. I whispered to my theater companions who adored the show, "They keep saying a word. What is it?" "Jellicle," they responded with pride. "Great," I said, "what the hell is a jellicle?!" "It's a made-up word. It's from the T.S. Eliot poems that the show is based on." And thus, my disgust for the show began as the entire thing is about a word that has no real meaning. In the opening song they even point to the audience (and I swear they were pointing at me) and comment that there's still someone who doesn't know what it means. "What does it mean?" they ask brightly. And they never answer their own question! But it won several Tony Awards and many people love it so I'm going to try and slog through this but forgive me if my disdain peeks through.
Now for those that just emerged from their coma or nuclear fallout shelter or from under your rock and don't know this one, "Cats" is that Andrew Lloyd Webber hit musical based on T.S. Eliot's book of poems, "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats". In fact, there are very few original lyrics in the show as the songs are, for the most part, simply the poems put to music. And so, the show, like the book, goes through a list of a variety of types of cats and explains their idiosyncrasies. There's Gus, the Theatre Cat, and the Magical Mister Mistoffelees and so many more. And they're all governed over by Old Deuteronomy who must choose one of them to be reborn or something. It's very unclear but it involves a spaceship that looks like a tire. And in this mix is the broken-down Grizabella who the other cats shun because she's ugly proving that cats are jerks. That is until she's the chosen one and then they love her proving that cats are big jerks.
The show doesn't really go anywhere storywise. They list the cats, they list them some more, they keep listing them, then there's "Memory" and the spaceship. And speaking of "Memory", really the only song most know from the show, the reason it's so different is that it's the only one with original lyrics, written by Trevor Nunn. It's based on the poems but it's not one of them. So, while the others are repetition, "Memory" actually sounds like a song. But they sung it well, especially Keri Rene Fuller who played the run-down Grizabella and belted out that tune like nobody's business.
There's also plenty of lovely dance pieces in the show. You have to appreciate the Mister Mistoffelees number and the dance prowess of Tion Gaston. Or the tap skills of Emily Jeanne Phillips as Jennyanydots. So, if you are a fan of the show, you're bound to have a good time. I am just not that fan as I find the show to be, like most ALW shows, all flash and spectacle and no substance. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I'm going to give two ratings for "Cats" at the Paramount. For myself and anyone looking for a story or clever lyrics this is a great big NAH. But for those out there that love all things "Cats", even those myriad cat videos on the internet, then this will appeal to your feline affinity and be a YAY. I guess I'm just a dog person.
"Cats" performs at the Paramount Theatre through March 31st. For tickets or information, visit them online at www.stgpresents.org.