Disclaimer: I received tickets to CATS as a clawesome opportunity through the Straz Center and Tampa Bay Bloggers for the purpose of this review. The purrsuasive opinions shared are my own.
To be fair, my only knowledge of CATS is the song, “Memories” that Betty Buckley and Barbara Streisand made famous. For that reason, I felt I needed to do some homework before attending the Tuesday’s opening night performance.
I asked my musical theater lover friends their thoughts about CATS and to my surprise, their feedback was mixed and not a good sign, despite CATS winning seven TONY® awards including “Best Musical”.
After the mixed reviews, I decided to listen to the soundtrack to have an idea of the score and the story told through song, but that only confused me. Therefore, I decided to watch CATS, the 2019 movie adaptation of the musical. Now, I realize the movie had its own share of mixed reviews, but I needed to have some idea about the plot and its score to truly understand this award winning musical.
As you’ve heard, the special effects in the movie which digitally alter the actors into cats is very odd and left me a little uneasy, however, putting all the creepy CGI aside, the score is truly another Andrew Lloyd Webber masterpiece. In fact, if you are a Jesus Christ Superstar fan, you will hear some very similar melodies. However, if your only knowledge of CATS is of the 2019 movie, then you have been led astray. The musical is very different from the movie.
But what about the plot? That seems to be where Webber fans either love it or hate it. Well, put me in the “love it” camp because I thoroughly enjoyed the stage production.
The score and plot centers around the poetry collection of T.S. Elliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. The production opens in a junkyard where a cat has been discarded by its owner like trash. The stray cats that make their home in the junkyard take the cat in as they prepare for the Jellicle Ball, an annual magical ceremony where cats compete to be chosen by Old Deuteronomy (Indalecio de Jesus Valentin) to go to the Heaviside Layer and be reborn.
Through each song, we meet a variety of cats with clever and mischievous traits. At the end of Act One, we are introduced to Grizabella (Tayler Harris), who longs to be part of the joyous Jellicle celebration and shares her “Memory” of a time of a better life. The vocals of the cast will astonish you and deliver the goosebumps you expect to feel.
Given the star studded talent that has performed “Memory” over the years, no matter who plays Grizabella, has some very large paws to fill and Tarris proves to be the cat’s meow earning her spotlight alongside Buckley and Streisand. Spoiler alert: A reprise of “Memory” happens again towards the end of Act 2 and Harris’ second performance will move you to tears. Bring tissues.
Besides the incredible score and famous feline costumes, what makes CATS truly remarkable is the stunning choreography which incorporates ballet, tap dancing and jazz. There’s a lot of furry Fosse in lycra, leaps, shimmies, high kicks and of course, art imitating life in the way of stray cat struts, licking and posturing. For dance lovers, the numbers are astounding – a dancer’s delight, as the “Magical Mister Mistoffelees” (Paul Giarratano) dazzled and mesmerized me.
Since the entire show takes place in a junkyard, the cast upcycles larger than life trash for props and costumes to share the stories of each cat. The creativity tickled me, particularly recycled funnels for roaches and mice of “The Old Gumbie Cat” and the ingenuity of the engine in “Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat”.
For me, CATS definitely earned its place in the Heavenside Layer. This Andrew Lloyd Webber masterpiece has stood the test of time and lived up to the memory stretching over 40 years.
Experience the magic and memory of CATS at the Straz Center now until Sunday, December 12. Visit www.strazcenter.org for showtimes and tickets.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO:
To protect its patrons, employees and its performers, the Straz Center is following strict Covid protocols. Guests are required to wear face masks and provide proof of a Covid vaccination or a negative test. Both physical and electronic presentation of vaccination cards and test results will be accepted.