Talkin' Broadway V.J.

CATS...on tour, now and forever!

When a friend rang me up and asked if I wanted to see Cats at the MGM Grand Theatre in Las Vegas I told her I'd have to get back to her. EFX is on hiatus for a week and the touring company of the Webber classic is booked through Sept. 12.

I called a friend of mine in New York and asked about this touring company. It's simply that I didn't want to go and spend time with a cheesy bus and truck tour of the durable and familiar Cats.

"If it's the tour by Cavanaughs Entertainment, go see it, they've done it before, I think you'll be quite surprised." Sure enough. I called Carolyn Weaver (Vegas' Corner) back and said I'd go. And surprised I was!

One thing that has amazed me for years is why Cats gets a bashing from supposedly learned theatre-goers. When it opened on Broadway way back when it was quite the sensation and a hot ticket. It also received a few Tonys and to this day it's still playing at the Winter Garden on Broadway and there are many other productions throughout the world. Why is Cats so popular? It's simple. It's a well constructed musical which accomplishes what it sets out to do. Plus it has a world-wide appeal.

When the curtain opened at the MGM one could see a rather lavish set, almost identical to the Broadway one. During the opening number "Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats" there was an 8 year old girl to my left and a 4 year old boy to my right, both giving audio responses of delight. I smiled and thought, 'yes, Mr. Webber, you created this magic which introduces the world of theatre to many youngsters.'

Most of the lyrics from Cats are from "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats" by T.S. Eliot. Adapted by Trevor Nunn and set to music by Andrew Lloyd Webber we meet the cast in full cat costumes as they cavort about the stage like the felines they're representing. I had actually forgotten about how much dancing is in this show so it was like visiting an old friend again. The choreography by Gillian Lynne is first rate and ranks up there with Fosse, Bennett, and Robbins. T. Michael Reed reproduced Lynne's original Broadway choreography for this tour and is to be commended. It really is that good and it's performed to precision by this razor-sharp cast.

Everyone knows the characters practically by heart. There's Jennyanydots, Mistoffelees, Mungojerrie, Old Deuteronomy, Rum Tum Tugger and, of course, Grizabella among others. Cats is really an ensemble piece, however, a few of the characters get to strut their stuff in some shining spots. Still, it's the entire ensemble that makes it work, and this is a first-rate company that could open on Broadway tomorrow!

Highlights of the show which one always has to mention is Rum Tum Tugger's (Kevin Loreque) cavorting with the audience, Mungojerrie's and Rumpleteazer's (David Petro, Renee Bonadio) duet, and of course "Memory" sung by Grizabella (Renee Veneziale). All four had their shining moments and delivered, although I had my doubts about Veneziale. Could she deliver the 11th hour number? Her act one curtain closer "Memory" was delivered beautifully, but during intermission I wondered whether she had the power to really bring it home in the second act.

During the interval I talked to the 8 year old and her mother, Rachel and Rosemary Humphrey from Los Angeles. They had extended their vacation in Las Vegas just to see Cats. Rachel loved Jennyanydots and knew all the characters while her mom loved Cats for its universal appeal and the message of "no matter who we are, no matter the race, the age, we're all different and we're all the same."

Act two breezed by and Shaun R. Parry, in as an understudy for Skimbleshanks, must be mentioned for doing a terrific if he performs it nightly. Julius Sermonia as "Mr. Mistoffelees" also turns in a dazzling performance in his solo.

Of course, we were all waiting for the big number. Veneziale took center stage and began slowly..."Memory...all alone in the moonlight..." when she got to the big line, we braced ourselves, could she do it? The music rose, and out of this lovely performer came "Touch me, it's so easy to leave me..." with such power I thought she was going to blow the roof off the place. A thrilling moment in the theatre, if ever. Bravo Renee Veneziale! Your performance ranks right up there with Buckley and Beechman.

Up, up, up to the Heaviside Layer went Grizabella and soon it was curtain. Receiving thunderous applause from the audience, the cast took their bows, and I thought to myself 'now I know why this is Broadway's longest running show. It's just a great crowd-pleaser with some fine tunes and terrific dancing.' What more can anyone ask?

CATS, at the MGM Grand EFX Theatre, Las Vegas, through September 12th. $50 - $65.00 Call Box office for info and tickets. (702) 891-7777.

See you Sunday!

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