Cats Has Lost Its Charm
Also see Richard's review of My Fair Lady
Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats has returned to San Francisco for a limited two week run at the Orpheum Theatre, billed as the 25th Anniversary Tour. It's a scaled down version of the musical event I have seen many times.
This marks my twelfth time to see Webber's cats parading about the stage. I first saw the original London production during the summer of 1981 at the converted BBC studio on Drury Lane. The studio had been renamed the New London Theatre and I was enchanted with Elaine Paige as Grizabella and Brian Blessed as Old Deuteronomy. The ingenious staging at this theatre, with the first five rows moving on a mechanical device so the cats could come into the audience, was spectacular. I saw the New York production at the Winter Garden during the winter of 1982 with Betty Buckley taking the role of Grizabella. I found that the charming British production had become "Americanized." It was more of a Broadway event than a fascinating study of T.S. Eliot verses on our feline friends. Over the years I have seen productions in Los Angeles, Columbus and many touring companies.
The current production features a vigorous cast of young singers and dancers with limited stage experience. What some of them lack in singing voices, they make up for in dancing. The bookless cycle of songs set to the poet's verse has lost is gasp-inducing physical production, but the dancers are fiercely energetic.
There seem to be changes in some of the scenes. There is now a scene of tap dancing cats in the first act that is strictly out of a Busby Berkeley musical. The second sequence of "Growltiger's Last Stand" has been changed to look like something out of the King and I's "Small House of Uncle Thomas."
Ryan Patrick Farrell is excellent as an athletic Mistoffelees with some exciting dance moves. Jeremy Hayes is sexy singing "The Rum Tum Tugger" Elvis Presley style. Claire Blakeley has a good Broadway trained voice as Grizabella, but she has no charisma in the role of the down and out cat. She radiates no sympathy for the character. Philip Peterson has good vocal chops but he seems too young for the role of Old Deuteronomy.
Choreographer Richard Stafford has designed some excellent, vivacious dance moves for the small group of singers and dancers. The small orchestra under director Logan Medland includes two keyboards that are very noticeable through the theatre's sound system. There is also a guitar, bass and drums that give the musical a tinny sound. Sometimes these instruments drown out the lyrics due to a too-loud sound system.
Sets and costumes are left over from prior productions. The set is one long piece of a junk yard with large Christmas tree lights, which occasionally change colors, strung about the theatre. There is a lot of strobe lighting throughout the production.
Cats plays at the Orpheum Theatre through March 5th. Tickets are available on line at www.shnsf.com, through Ticketmaster by calling 415-512-7770, at tickemaster.com and at all Ticketmaster Ticket Center and at the box office at the Orpheum Theatre, located at 1182 Market at 8th Street, San Francisco.