Music by Andrew Lloyd Weber
Direction and choreography for tour by Richard Stafford (based on original direction by Trevor Nunn and original choreography by Gillian Lynne)
At Cadillac Palace Theatre, Chicago
These cats have plenty of lives—and life.
Those oh-so-idiosyncratic kitties make a splendid return to the Chicago stage in what is being billed as a faithful recreation of the original West End production. A panoply of song, dance and sheer spectacle, CATS is family-friendly fun overflowing with so much variety it has to burst off the stage and into the audience. Based on T.S. Eliot’s 1939 children’s book of light verse, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, it tells a simple tale of the Jellicle cat tribe uniting on a single night to see which of them will be permitted the honor of being born again.
CATS pulls back the veil on that most aloof of animals to reveal a rich inner life we all suspected was there; one of complex naming, strange abilities and tribal loyalty. Presided over by Old Deuteronomy (Nathan Morgan) under a full moon in an unknown junkyard, each cat gets to make their case for the Heaviside Layer where cats receive a second chance by singing the song of their life and personality (purr-sonality?). Each one is a self-contained song and dance number that samples a vast range of styles from pop rock to opera, music hall to jazz—even a little cabaret. Of course, it’s that haunting and enigmatic composition “Memory” that steals the show. As sung by Melissa Grohowski, the desolate former glamour cat Grizabella brings chills and a tear with her song of lost glory and a wish for a new life. Chaz Wolcott as the magical Mr. Mistoffelees earns equal praise for his balletic movements that spin him about the stage like a child’s toy as he enchants with his tricks and turns.
The plot is secondary to the sheer sensory delight of a massive ensemble introducing this tribe, embodying the grace and sensual movements of felines resplendent in the fantastical glam-rock costumes based on the original 1981 production. This production attempts to be as true to that original production as possible, with director and choreographer Richard Stafford reviving the work of director Trevor Nunn and the movements of Gillian Lynne. Having not been there, I can’t say if this is or isn’t a true replica of that debut, but when you’re having this much fun it’s hard to care either way. T.S. Eliot’s poetry is wonderfully imaginative, homely in structure and a perfect counterpoint to Weber’s deliriously inventive compositions. It’s complex in its simplicity, and I couldn’t help but think of that portmanteau “simplexity” currently infusing such creative powerhouses as Pixar.
Thirty-one years after its debut, the award-winning CATS is one of the longest running musical of all time (eclipsed by Andrew Lloyd Weber’s other work, Phantom of the Opera). Still fresh and frisky, it’s an indispensable stop on the world-tour of theatre. Visiting Chicago for a short five day run, don’t dawdle if you want a chance to see a true piece of panache and pageantry. You may never look at a cat the same way again.
Review by Clint May
Date Reviewed: May 1, 2012
For more info checkout the CATS page on www.BroadwayInChicago.com
At Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph, Chicago, IL; call 800.775.2000 or visit www.BroadwayInChicago.com; tickets $25-75 with discounted student and group rates available; performances Wednesday through Friday 7:30pm, Saturday at 2pm & 8pm, and Sunday 2pm and 7:30pm; running time 2 hours 30 minutes 1 intermission; through May 6.