Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
Originally staged in London's West End in 1981, and moving to Broadway the following year, Cats has transfixed and delighted audiences in over 30 countries and 15 languages, winning, among other awards, seven Tony and a Grammy (for the Broadway cast recording) along the way. Additionally, the smash hit song "Memories" has been recorded by more than 150 artists, including Barbra Streisand, Johnny Mathis, Liberace, and Barry Manilow.
The original Broadway production, which closed in 2010, was choreographed by the late Gillian Lynne, in what now is considered her legacy. This touring production, based on the 2017 Broadway revival, has fresh choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler (honoring his predecessor) and is directed by Trevor Nunn, who directed the original production.
As the story is an amalgam of 20 freestanding, previously published poems which embody a wide range of feline foibles, the now Baron Lloyd-Webber of Sydmonton, with full knowledge and cooperation from the poet's widow Valerie Eliot, chose to use an unpublished poem about "Grizabella" to loosely hold the verses together, creating the following plot: Every year a group of cats, known as Jellicles, gather together in order for their leader Old Deuteronomy to choose one cat to ascend to the Heaviside layer, die, and be reborn with a new life. There is a lot of competition for this prize and the evil Macavity kidnaps then impersonates Old Deuteronomy. Eventually he is unveiled and the prize goes to the previously ostracized Grizabella, bringing the two-act show to a beautiful and satisfactory ending.
This production is a complete musical spectacle in the opera buffa style, inspired by vivid, imaginative, anthropomorphic genius. Immediately we are introduced to a variety of cats, individuals who, without exception, exhibit many of the traits and habits we may find apply to ourselves. The catsgood, bad, lazy, greedy, proud, kindget up to all kinds of roguery and trickery, are engaging, energetic and dynamic, and totally enhanced by magnificently splendid makeup and costumes. The music, the singing, the athleticism of the dancing is spectacular. If there are tickets available for this very short run, I'll be back.
Cats is set in a steampunk junkyard, dark, brooding, and replete with trash cans, trash, broken appliances, old ladders, and random waste. The sky is foreboding and a full Saturn style moon hangs high in the distance. And there are cats, lots of cats. Lots of beautiful, ugly, raggedy, playful, brave, cowardly (and one Beau Brummel) cats. They are never still, and are so much fun to watch. Ignoring the fourth wall, these creatures, with a hilarious lack of respect, wander wherever they please. Old Deuteronomy (played by Brandon Michael Nase) is a model of quietly kind, aged knowledge. McGee Maddox's Rum Tug Tugger is a super-suave cat, an amusing, pesky gadfly. Kerri Rene Fuller's Grizabella rather surprised me. My vision of a sad, hard-worn cat and a general aura of mange, did not appear. Instead, she is a frail figure, one living in the shadows, desperately trying to come home. Rejected at almost every turn, this Grizabella is reminiscent of a girl who thoughtlessly traded her summer and autumn for an extended spring, and now finds winter upon her. Her "Memories" had people on both sides of me in tears before she was even half way through. Her vocal talent is impressive; she is able to definitively own this iconic song while singing from a half-crouched position.
The costumes are magnificent. Apparently, each cat's wig is made specifically for the cast member, and they are perfect. The magical Mister Mistoffelees (played by Tion Gaston) is a treat to watch, not only for his performance, but also for the amazing color-changing, starlit jacket.
The lighting design by Natasha Katz (seriously) is practically a living entity. It has the ability to change the mood without changing the set. Wonderful, just wonderful.
If you haven't yet seen Cats, go. If you have already seen it, see it again, and bring someone, preferably a youngster, with you.
Cats, through May 19, 2019, at Popejoy Hall, 203 Cornell Dr., Albuquerque NM. Tickets are available at unmtickets.com, popejoypresents.com, at the ticket offices at UNM bookstore and The Pit ticket office, or by calling 505-925-5858. For more information on the tour, visit ustour.catsthemusical.com.