Entertainment » Theatre

Cats - National Tour

by Robert Nesti
EDGE National Arts & Entertainment Editor
Friday Jan 10, 2020
The cast of the national tour of "Cats."
The cast of the national tour of "Cats."  (Source:Matthew Murphy)

"Do you have any idea what's going on?" asked a stranger at intermission of "Cats" at Boston's Citizen Bank Opera House on Wednesday night. My initial response was to say to see the recent film, which gave this famously plotless musical a story line about a cat befriended by a gaggle of other cats who gather once a year for a ceremony that sends one of them to kitty-kat heaven. But instead I told this Millennial, who was likely not born when the show became an international sensation in the 1980s, that it had none and to simply sit back and try to enjoy the spectacle.

And it has always been that spectacle that has made "Cats" such a theatrical achievement. Who exactly knows why Andrew Lloyd Webber's pet project — to turn a group of poems by TS Eliot — into a stage spectacular would find an audience? Is it the novelty of singing and dancing cats? Webber's song that wormhole into your head and stay there for days? Or the whimsical appeal of Eliot's array of cats-types that, we are told in the end, aren't much different than you or me. If only I could move like Mr. Misoffelees.

Whatever the reason, judging from the cat ears worn by many in the audience, the musical remains a perennial favorite that holds up nicely in this touring production, which is based on the 2016 Broadway revival. For that production, Tony-winning "Hamilton" choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler came on board to restage the iconic work of Gillian Lynne, who passed this last July. Blankenbuehler also did the dances in the lamentable film version, which turn out to be the best parts of the film. He takes more chances on screen by incorporating 21st century touches; here he hones closely to Lynne's choreography. (Ms. Lynne, by the way, was not happy with this decision.) Trevor Nunn's overall staging remains the same, as does John Napier's iconic junkyard, but there is quite remarkable new lighting design by Natasha Katz, which does much to enhance the show's mysterious, nocturnal feel. Also changed is the elimination of the "Growltiger's Last Stand" number — a number sung by the aged Gus, the Theater cat, of his stage exploits, due to its use of Asian stereotypes. Too bad its replacement, "The Awefull Battle of the Pekes and the Pollicles," is just busy and forgettable.

The cast is certainly committed to the show's vision, and they execute the musical numbers with pinpoint precision. Amongst them, Dan Hoy is a vocal standout as Munkustrap; Justin W. Geiss and Nevada Riley make a sleeky, larcenous dance duo as Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer; Giovanni DiBabriele has all the right moves as Skimbleshanks, whose number is one of the show's best; PJ DiGaetano makes a winsome, balletic Mr. Misoffelees; and Brandon Michael Nase is a big-voiced Deuteronomy, the sage who chooses which lucky cat goest to kitty-kat-heaven. That turns out to be (spoiler alert) Grizabella, played with pathos by Keri René Fuller, whose belted "Memory" with steely-voiced authority.

What this stage version does is point out the differences with the film version (still in theaters). Why the film doesn't work may have something to do with the inherent theatricality of the concept, which when put in another medium, just looks silly. On stage, "Cats" allows for a suspension of disbelief that somehow makes this piece of exalted whimsy take hold. Whether you like it or not, this "Cats" delivers exactly what fans of the show want.

"Cats" continues through January 19 at the Citizen Bank Opera House, 539 Washington Street, Boston, MA. For more information, visit the Broadway in Boston website.For more on the national tour, visit the show's website.

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