‘CATS’ Is Reborn Thanks To Exceptional EnsemblePhoto Credit: Mathew Murphy Photo Credit: Mathew Murphy
Reviewed by: Michael J. Roberts
It has been 41 years since Andrew Lloyd Webber’s juggernaut CATS first opened in London, becoming one of the most successful musicals in history giving birth to the “mega musical”. Watching the exceptional cast of the recently launched touring company of CATS take their opening night bows to a thunderous standing ovation at Orlando’s Dr. Phillips Center, the connection this musical makes with its audience of every generation is undeniable.
Based on T.S. Elliott’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, Lloyd Webber conceived CATS as London’s first ever dance musical and with the addition of original choreographer Gillian Lynne, the show is still considered one of the most difficult to dance. CATS has certainly been the subject the many a theatre joke and debate over the decades and the recent fiasco of a the film adaptation certainly added to the zeitgeist. But make no mistake, CATS was a game changer for the entire theater industry including how shows are advertised and the uniformity in its touring productions.
This national touring company of CATS is a product of the 2016 Broadway revival with choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler retaining much of Lynne’s work while infusing more modern styles including hip-hop to wondrous results.
Though most of the current cast was not even born when CATS premiered as an ensemble and individually, they are a force of nature. Standout performances include Zach Bravo’s testosterone filled Rum Tug Tugger, Max Craven and Kelly Donah’s perfectly syncronized Mungojerrie and Rumpleteaser, Indalecio de Jesus Valentin’s booming baritone as Old Deuteronomy while Paul Giarratano is other worldly as Mr. Mistoffelees, performing the signature “Conjuring Turn” comprising of 24 consecutive fouettés en tournant with ease.
Regardless of anyone’s criticism of CATS as a musical, one thing is undeniable. It contains one of the greatest theatrical songs and moments ever created for the stage. Memory exists for many recording artists outside the realm of the musical, but in context Grizabella’s gut wrenching cry for the life she once knew is one of those rare moments that truly stop a show and Taylor Harris did just that.
CATS is that rarity of rarities. A musical for all generations that keeps getting better with age. I guess the original marketing of CATS has come to be as it is Now and Forever.
CATS runs through April 3, 2022 at Orlando’s Dr. Phillips Center For The Performing Arts, 445 S. Magnolia Ave, Orlando, Florida. For tickets and more information, visit drphillipscenter.org