I'm not babbling hyperbolically here: on this, my fourth visit to the venerable Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, I found that I liked Cats more than ever. What I marveled at most was the brilliance and seamlessness of its construction: How the theatre has been so imaginatively reconfigured into a cat's eye view of a junkyard, wittily rendered in oversized soup cans and car tires by designer John Napier. How the show states its purpose and sets its ground rules so effectively and efficiently in its opening moments, as first a panoply of bright eyes and then the cats themselves dart all over the auditorium. How the 26 performers, clad in the Mr. Napier's ingenious, impressionistic cat costumes, convey the essence of cat-ness as they sing, dance, and play, nuzzling the occasional patron in the audience, here with detachment, there with indulgent good-naturedness.
And then there's the music, perhaps too familiar now, but beautiful just the same: "Memory," of course, but also the haunting "Jellicle Cats" theme song, the bouncy "Old Gumbie Cat," the joyous "Skimbleshanks" number, even the semi-operatic "Growltiger's Last Stand"--all sounding great under musical director Ben Whiteley's baton.
Prior experiences at Cats had told me that the exact composition of the company will dictate where the show's high points are. At this performance, they came in the big choral/dance numbers, led by the engaging and multi-talented Michael Gruber as a robust Munkustrap; and in the Growltiger sequence, performed with a wink by the big-voiced Craig Ricks in a silly bravado turn that brought to mind the young Kevin Kline. Other standouts included Roger Kachel's delightfully athletic Mungojerrie and Celina Carvajal's Demeter. Note, though, that your results may differ: Cats may be forever, but the individual kitties come and go.
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