Friday, February 20, 2004
"The cat's out of the bag," as Gus would say. The award-winning Broadway musical "CATS" was a smash hit Wednesday at the Lied Center. Performing for a packed house, which included dedicated fans in full feline dress, these fantastical Jellicles put on a show that was, according to one audience member, "as good here as anywhere in the world."
Primarily based on T.S. Eliot's "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats," this tale is set in a junkyard on the eve of a full Jellicle moon. Each year the Jellicle Cats meet for the Jellicle Ball and compete for the coveted prize: to be chosen by Old Deuteronomy for rebirth.
Throughout the night, each cat took its turn auditioning. And although each was a noteworthy competitor, some were exceptionally entertaining.
Rum Tum Tugger, the resident rock star, was a cross between Elvis Presley and Steven Tyler from Aerosmith. He sashayed on stage with his big hair and rhinestones, alternating his velvety low notes with screechy high notes for a truly effective portrayal of a cool cat.
Growltiger and Griddlebone employed excellent comedic timing, voice control and emotive facial and body expressions in their "last stand." Growltiger combined the machismo of Steven Seagal with the comedic character of Johnny Depp for a superb performance, and Griddlebone matched him at every step.
It is important to note, however, that individuals weren't the only ones to shine in this show. Some of the ensemble performances were excellent. The Siamese Pirates' succinct execution of choreography was outstanding and was rivaled only by the Gumpy Cat ensemble in the first half. The Gumpy Cat in flapper fringe tap-danced with cockroach-space-age jesters in a comic and energetic ensemble.
Of course, Deuteronomy could only choose one cat to be reborn. And although Mephistopheles the conjuring cat wasn't chosen for that honored office, he was the crowd favorite. When Macavity kidnapped Deuteronomy, it was up to Mephistopheles to save him. Through a series of awe-inspiring athletic leaps and spins that simply sparkled, Mephistopheles brought back the revered leader of the Jellicle Cats and foiled Macavity's evil plot.
In the end, Deuteronomy conceded to the group's nomination: Grizabella. Her solo, "Memory," is one of the most famous of all the "CATS" tunes. And one understands why, after seeing this old glam queen in mismatched stockings, torn glitter top, and streaked makeup trying to imitate the younger cats in their dancing, all the while singing, "I was beautiful then. I remember what happiness was. Let the memory live again." It was a strong, powerful and memorable performance.
Finally, atop an old rubber tire, Deuteronomy and Grizabella ride up past the Jellicle moon to meet a fog-powered cloud that will carry her into the heavens and a new life. After 23 years onstage, "CATS" continues to find new life inside the old.