By Tulis McCall
Cats is pure spectacle, from the first moments of the light show with the flying saucer gizmo that lifts off for parts unknown, to the last moments when Grizabella meets her final reward. It is shimmering, leaping, booty shaking spectacle. There should be a Tony for the ensemble of dancers in this production (original choreography by Gillian Lynne has been spiffed up and augmented Andy Blankenbuehler who choreographed Hamilton). They ARE the production.
Cats is a set of musical numbers loosely draped over T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. And like Phantom of the Opera (was that a Phantom theme I heard?) Weber has somehow found the knack for musical themes that will not leave you alone. You leave the theatre and spend the next few days humming (or hearing) the tunes. Not all of them. Memory of course is the iconic number, closely followed by Jellicle Cats. And that is that.
I looked up Jellicle – it is a made up term. And these made up cats are meeting for a made up Jellicle Ball while the city around them sleeps. The thread of a plot involves the return of Old Deuteronomy (Quentin Earl Darrington) a wise old gent who has returned to bestow his blessing on the flock and name the cat who will ascend to the “Heaviside Layer”. This event, when it arrives is as inexplicable as the rest of the story and another visual treat.
Other trickles of a story include the arrival of Grizabella (Leona Lewis) who creeps about the stage, austensibly playing a stray cat in search of shelter and burdened by too much loneliness and too little meat. Ms. Lewis herself, however , appears uncertain of what she should do onstage. An actor she is not. A mighty singer she is. She knows how to stand in one place and deliver the goods, but watching her move in character is disappointing. We only see her feeling relaxed at the curtain call where she scampers and laughs with her colleagues.
There is a lot of the old English Music Hall here as characters are introduced, not for their contribution to the story, but for their ability to entertain and provide another glorious dance number. Rum Tum Tugger (Tyler Hanes) and Mister Mistoffelees (Ricky Ubeda) give everyone a workout, and Mr. Ubeda seems to be operating on his very own battery pack. Gus (short for Asparagus), the theater cat, is a sweet sentimental creation in the person of Christopher Gurr. It will bring a tear to the eye of any theatre person – spoiler alert.
There are other numbers (a lot of other numbers) that are executed with precision and exuberance (and paw bumping?? What IS that?). And after a bit, all these impeccably costumed folks (with the exception of Georgina Pascoquin all in white and mesmerizing) begin to blend together in a tabby tuffet that becomes too much of a good thing. Eventually you get the urge to push yourself away from the table, even at the risk of disappointing this inexhaustible and generous cast of dancers.
The real drama on my end was happening in the row behind me. At intermission the woman in back of me started talking strong and loud in her Mother Voice. Emily, from the sound of it a very young person was acting out. And Grammy was having a hard time handling it. “Emily,” the mother said, “tomorrow I am going to take you to a doctor who handles children who are disrespectful to adults. This behavior is unacceptable. No you cannot have another waffle. You have had three already. And you had two pieces of peanut butter bread. Put Grammy on.” Pause. “This is unacceptable. Emily is not to have another waffle! She can have sun chips or a granola bar or raisins. I told you she was over tired. You tell her this is unacceptable, and that if she does not get it together she will not go to camp tomorrow. She can go to her room if she does not want these choices and cry herself to sleep. And tomorrow she will not got to camp. Emily will stay in her room all day all by herself with nothing to do because I will take away all her toys!!! You tell her that. And if she needs to call me back, she has 5 minutes because the show is starting.” Pause. “Phenominal. It’s Phenominal. Bye.”
High praise indeed. And of course Mom and the older daughter led the standing ovation. I wonder how Emily fared.
In closing here is gift for you. They don’t come much better than this.
The Naming Of Cats by T. S. Eliot
The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
First of all, there’s the name that the family use daily,
Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo or James,
Such as Victor or Jonathan, George or Bill Bailey–
All of them sensible everyday names.
There are fancier names if you think they sound sweeter,
Some for the gentlemen, some for the dames:
Such as Plato, Admetus, Electra, Demeter–
But all of them sensible everyday names.
But I tell you, a cat needs a name that’s particular,
A name that’s peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,
Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?
Of names of this kind, I can give you a quorum,
Such as Munkustrap, Quaxo, or Coricopat,
Such as Bombalurina, or else Jellylorum-
Names that never belong to more than one cat.
But above and beyond there’s still one name left over,
And that is the name that you never will guess;
The name that no human research can discover–
But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.
When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.
Runtime 2 hr., 20 min.
Credits Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber; Lyrics by T.S. Eliot, Trevor Nunn and Richard Stilgoe; Based on the original choreography by Gillian Lynne, featuring additional choreography by Tony Award winner Andy Blankenbuehler; Directed by Trevor Nunn
Cast Giuseppe Bausilio, Quentin Earl Darrington, Jeremy Davis, Kim Faure, Sara Jean Ford, Lili Froehlich, Daniel Gaymon, Shonica Gooden, Christopher Gurr, Tyler Hanes, Andy Jones, Kolton Krouse, Eloise Kropp, Leona Lewis, Jess LeProtto, Georgina Pazcoguin, Emily Pynenburg, Ariana Rosario, Ahmad Simmons, Christine Cornish Smith, Corey Snide, Emily Tate, Ricky Ubeda and Sharrod Williams