Growing up, I did not go to the theater. Musicals were not one of those things our family did. Despite not knowing much about theater, I knew about CATS. As one of the longest-running and best-selling musicals in Broadway history, you could not escape the buzz. Everywhere you looked, people were either raving about or mocking Andrew Lloyd Webbers latest musical creation. A musical about cats? Genius or pure ridiculousness?
I excitedly settled in for the opening night of CATS at the San Jose’s Center for Performing Arts, anxious to make heads or tails as to whether my memories of the mockery about CATSwas deserved or not.
I have to put it right out there, CATS is somewhat odd. Halfway through the first act, I still could not figure out exactly what a Jellicle cat was and why they were all getting together. Sure, songs about the different kinds of cats are amusing and cute, but seriously? The entire show really is just about cats (and this is coming from a cat person). I quickly understood why the show was the butt of so many jokes, but as the saying goes, cats always land on their feet and my feelings of bewilderment at the storyline quickly faded as this insanely talented cast clawed their way into my heart.
Felines as a species are generally thought of as all being the same, but if you are a cat person, you know that they are all different. As an introduction to the Jellicle cats, the audience is shown many of the ways a cat can be. Cats can be lazy, or hyperor sweet or snooty or shy or lazy or anything you can imagine really. While certain cats are highlighted, such as extravagant, yet fickle Rum Tum Tugger (McGee Maddox) and the mischievous Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer, every single cast member brilliantly brings their respective character fully to life with every movement and action on stage.
The choreography, costuming and makeup has clearly been updated and is both fantastically designed and perfectly executed. The very creatively designed stage and usage of the auditorium (aisle seats are fun for this performance) are used to showcase the stunning dance moves of the cast. Each person slinks and moves so gracefully, you almost forget they are people. Ensemble numbers are a real highlight as is a rousing performance by Tion Gaston as Mistoffelees, which had many audience members springing to their feet in awe of his dance skill and stage presence.
For all the talent this cast has when it comes to dancing, the vocal performances are equally impressive. While some of the ensemble singing numbers seemed muddled to me, I could not tell if it was the sound in the theater or the nonsensical at times lyrics. The individually sung numbers, however, were perfect. Keri Rene Fuller as Grizabella, in particular, moved me to tears with her rendition of Memory. I suspect Barbara Streisand herself would give her a standing ovation.
I have to say, I was surprised at how much I loved this show. CATS clearly has more than nine lives left, in what is sure to be another long and successful run that will leave audiences singing, dancing and purring their way out of the auditorium.
The San Jose engagement of CATS is presented by Broadway San Jose and is playing a limited engagement now through February 24th. Single tickets are available ranging in price from ($43-$153) at www.broadwaysanjose.com or at the Civic Box Office (150 W. San Carlos St., San Jose) or by calling 800-982-ARTS (2787).