Entertainment » Theatre

Cats

by Robert Bullen
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Sunday Oct 18, 2009
The cast of the national tour of Cats, currently plaing at the Cadillac Palace Theatre
The cast of the national tour of Cats, currently plaing at the Cadillac Palace Theatre  

I can remember it like it was yesterday: I was nine years old (I'm turning 30 in a month; you do the math) and Laurie Beechman sang that ubiquitous pop hit, "Memory", directly to me at the Winter Garden Theatre on Broadway.

That's right: Laurie Beechman made me gay.

Anastasia Lange, who plays Grizabella in this non-Equity tour of Cats, currently stopping for only a week at the Cadillac Palace, didn't quite take me to the Heavyside Layer, but she does hit all the right notes. In fact, this rickety production, featuring inflatable sets (no - really!), offers the necessary magic, but with a slightly flat aftertaste.

Andrew Lloyd Webber built this show around T.S. Eliot's whimsical collection of poems, "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats." Essentially plotless, it's a silly revue-like show, with the occasional touching moment to make it all seem worthwhile.

The score hits a nostalgic nerve for me, and it's represented adequately by the synth-heavy eight-member band. As this production is a byproduct of the '80s, the leg warmers, body-hugging unitards and Yak-hair wigs almost seem retro-cool. The dancing carries the show, and Gillian Lynne's ballet-on-speed choreography remains athletic and buoyant as ever.

The young cast, many of whom are making their professional debuts here, leap and sing with gusto, although the sluggish tempos tend to drag down their athleticism. Standouts include Brian Bailey and Kristen Quartarone as Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer and Adam Steiner as Rum Tum Tugger. However, Ryan William Baily as Asparagus steals the show in the second act "Growltiger's Last Stand" sequence -- one of the most realized moments in the show.

As mentioned, John Napier's reduced sets are functional, and also inflatable. The junkyard doesn't spill out into the audience as it did in larger productions of the show; rather it's contained within the proscenium. The lighting, which on Broadway featured ropes of lights hanging over the audience, has been reduced to a strand of Christmas lights, some gobos and a handful of strobes. It gets the job done.

However, when that giant tire rises up to transport Old Deuteronomy and Griz to the Heavyside Layer (here: something resembling an iceberg on a flying saucer), I was charmed and moved. And you can't ask for more than that from Cats.

Cats plays through October 18 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W Randolph St. For more information, visit www.broadwayinchicago.com.

A native midwesterner, Robert is a self-confessed Chicago theatre addict. You can read more about his addiction at chitheatreaddict.com


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