With music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and based on “Old Possum’s Book Of Practical Cats” by T.S. Eliot, CATS has been a part of the musical theater culture for almost 40 years around the world. The play premiered in London in 1981 to rave reviews and audiences fell instantly in love with their newfound feline friends.
Once a year, a local tribe of street cats who call themselves “The Jellicle Cats”, come together for their legendary “Jellicle Ball.” For one night only, they dance, sing, tell stories and entertain each other while listening to the words of wisdom given by their elder and respected leader, Old Deuteronomy (Brandon Michael Nase). Also on this evening, one among them will be born anew into the next incarnation in their series of nine lives.
Every cat has its own unique personality, but the real strength of the production lies in the overall quality of the ensemble cast and their spectacular and instantly recognizable colorful costumes as is evident in the opening number of “Invitation to the Jellicle Ball.” John Napier’s stage design is set in a rubbish dump where abandoned cars and old kitchen ovens appear oversized to lend realistic perspective to the cats. At one point during the celebration an oversized tennis shoe makes an appearance, no doubt from a nearby sleepless neighbor. The lighting by Natasha Katz and set design by Napier are the winners of this production,
The gathering is interrupted by a tattered and torn Grizabella (Keri René Fuller), the faded glamour cat, who has been lurking around the edges of the stage all evening looking half-dead already and warbling her one big musical number as if auditioning for a resurrection. Repulsed by her sorry state, the Jellicles reject her and chase her off, despite Old Deuteronomy’s advice to show compassion. Under a bright full moon, we are treated to one of musical theater’s best moments as Grizabella signs her final rendition of “Memory”, reminiscing of her “days in the sun” and longing to go back to a past where hope and happiness were alive. To Fuller’s credit, the song which has been imprinted in our minds by Barbra Streisand still manages to get us welled up. Grizabella manages to win over not only the audience, but also her fellow cats, and convinces the tribe to accept her back into the Jellicle circle of trust.
— Victor Riobo
CATS runs through March 24th at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre. Get tickets HERE.