note: entire contents copyright 2010 by Sheila Barth
Taken from T.S. Eliot’s 1939 collection of poems for children, “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats,” “Cats,” the long-running, multi-Tony Award-winning Broadway show that revolutionized musical theater with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music, delighted audiences in its brief return to Boston last week at the Colonial Theatre.
It’s the spectacle, with Duncan Robert Edwards’ ear-splitting explosions; lighting designer David Hersey’s eye-popping, bursts of swirling and radiant beams; elevated, steamy platforms; and silver streamers exploding onto the audience that thrills. Amidst all this glitz and glitter is a talented cast that, in the opening number, slinks down the aisles in darkness, with only spooky, bright green eyes visible, peering into the faces of individuals in the audience, until the stage bursts alive with Jellicle cats, singing, leaping, purring, lurking. They’re a handsome potpourri of calicos, Persians, black cats, spotted cats, fat cats, older cats, theatrical and cool cats, thanks to John Napier’s unique costumes and junkyard set design.
Like an operetta, there is no dialogue, merely lyrics and dance that introduce each cat through song. In the opening number,”The Naming of Cats,” the cast reveals how each cat gets his/her name and its significance.
And, oh, what names they are - from sage, elderly leader, Deuteronomy, to fallen glamor cat, Grizabella; magical Mistoffelees; Macavity, the mystery, villanous cat; Victoria, a young white, spritely kitty; old Gumbie Cat, Jennyanddots; theatrical cat, Asparagus, affectionately called Gus, who flashes back to one of his most prominent roles as a pirate; ladies’ heart throb-prankster, Rum Tum Tugger; Bustopher Jones, the 25-pounder; Jellylorum; Bombalurina; Munkustrap; acrobatic, playful cats, Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer; Skimbleshanks, the train-riding cat; and others, who attend the tribe’s annual Jellicle Ball to determine who will be the chosen cat to ascend to the Heaviside Layer and be reborn, to return to a new life.
Lots of action occurs during this auspicious night. Grizabella, a broken-down, remorseful former glamour-puss, returns, but is rejected, shunned. Besides a police raid, a warring group attacks the Jellicles, kidnapping Deuteronomy, who is later rescued and returned. The Jellicles then fulfill their destiny.
Richard Stafford directed and choreographed Cat’s-Eye LLC touring production, and the dancing is superlative. Every feline movement that cat owners’ admire is furtive, sleek, balletic; and the orchestra, directed by J. Michael Duff, is rich, full, dramatic.
Anastasia Lange as Grizabella belts out a woeful “Memory,” the play’s most coveted song; Nathan Morgan as Asparagus delivers a nostalgic memory in “Gus:The Theatre Cat;” and Philip Peterson as Old Deuteronomy. the wise, caring, patriarch, instills wisdom in closing number, “The Ad-dressing of Cats,” advising us that cats are very much like us humans.
Although some theatergoers said they didn’t understand this personified play and oftentimes couldn’t distinguish some of the singers’ lyrics, they weren’t complaining. The overall, spectacular production was a satisfying feast of the senses.