There must be something worth scratching at when it comes to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, CATS. The show about all different feline purrsonalities continues to tour around the world to adoring crowds. Now a newly revamped production of CATS has arrived in Toronto and it caught us by surprise.
The musical was inspired by “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” by T.S. Eliot – a collection of poems he had written for his godchildren and was collected and published in the 1930s. Webber’s musical adaptation CATS premiered in London, UK at the West End Theatre in 1981 and then Broadway the following year. It went on to claim the title of being the longest-running show on Broadway, that is, until Webber’s next musical came along, The Phantom of the Opera. CATS has been seen in over 30 countries and in 15 languages.
The storyline was fairly simple to follow. Each year, the cats all gather on one magical night under a full moon for the Jellicle Ball. For over two hours, the audience is introduced to each unique character. Just try and guess which one will be deserving of the coveted honour. Great conversation for families with young kids. After the cats each has their moment in the spotlight, one would be ultimately chosen and granted a new life. By the way, aside from the felines that were in Eliot’s poems, some characters that were discovered in unpublished work were added to the musical including Grizabella, a once glamour puss.
There are easily recognizable and crowd-pleasing hits including Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats, Magical Mister Mistoffelees and of course, the unforgettable tune, Memory. But in true Andrew Lloyd Webber style, you’ll recognize his style of eclectic music that ranges from wide-appeal soft ballads to rock and roll and everything in between. Yes, many of his songs stick with your forever.
The first time I had seen CATS was in the 1990s. Quite honestly, it wasn’t memorable. The cast performing in skin-tight bodysuits made us all uncomfortable. Flash forward to the current and pleasantly surprising revival production that is more of what we would expect from an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.
The set itself is way more sophisticated and detailed than the one I had experienced many moons ago. Lighting is dramatic and takes full advantage of the theatre space beyond the stage. There are more bells and whistles thanks to the creative work that includes the scenic and costume designer and multiple-award winner John Napier (Les Miserables, Miss Saigon) and Natasha Katz, a six-time Tony Award-winning lighting designer who’s also known for her work on Frozen, Aladdin, Once, Beauty and the Beast and more.
The cast has the greatest and most fun task of taking on the personas of the cats. Aside from the singing, it’s the elaborate non-stop choreography that brings a more contemporary feel to this new production. It’s so good it had us immediately searching up the details. Turns out it’s three-time Tony Award winner Andy Blankenbuehler (Hamilton) that has given the refresh moves to the original choreography by Gillian Lynne.
The cast is strong – while not all songs in CATS have that “catchy tune” power, Keri Rene Fuller’s (Grizabella) voice is breathtaking as she breaks us down with her emotion-filled performance of Memory. Magical Mister Mistoffelees is a great dance number with some added special effects that are, well, magical. The aspiring dancers in your family will love all the different styles as well as gymnastic-skills in this production!
CATS the Broadway musical is now on stage at the newly refreshed Princess of Wales Theatre until January 5, 2020. Tickets and more info available through www.mirvish.com.
*There are a limited number of $39 rush tickets available beginning at 9:00 am on the day of each performance. Details are also on the site.