Reviewed by Richard Malone
The reviewing of "CATS" is a difficult matter. If you aren't familiar with this musical, it is sort of Andrew Lloyd Webber version of "Animal Kingdom" revolving around an annual conflagration cats, the Jellicles, at their annual ball. Old Deuteronomy (Nathan Morgan) is the respected, wise old leader, and each year, he selects one attending cat to go to the "Heavyside Layer" to be reborn into the next life. (They have more than one.) But before that happens, we must meet the notable cats in attendance, and their back-stories are established through successive song and dance numbers serving as a veritable cat social sciences curriculum. We learn how they work and play and the important role they have played in history and art. We get an insight into their psyches, explore their patriarchal system, and learn cats are skilled at many things: general mischief, operating trains, drama, and magic to name a few. Compassion isn't their strong-point either as demonstrated through the cruel snubbing of poor Grizabella (Melissa Grohowski), a fading feline beauty. She's the cat you would see in the alley with matted hair, a lame foot, and a plaintive meow who probably had too many littters of kittens by too many different tomcats. Grizabella brings the emotional depth to the show with her rendition of the ubiquitous but still haunting "Memory". It could be called "Misery", and we feel her pain.
Aside from Grizabella's showstopper, the tunes are mostly lighthearted and catchy. The dance numbers could be edited down a bit to suit my taste, but at times helped to kick up the energy level a notch, particularly by Mr. Mistoffelees (Chaz Wolcott) in that eponymous number. "CATS" has become a musical theater punchline to many, but judging from the audience the night I saw it, there is a built in fan base of crazy cat ladies who will come out for the Jellicle Ball whenever it is in town and will overlook a show that is a little tired and tattered. This touring production leaves town today, but will probably be back because "CATS" is now and forever.
At Cadillac Palace, Chicago through May 6, 2012
Directed and choreographed for the tour by Richard Stafford
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber