(Fisher Theatre, Detroit, MI - May 18th, 2010)
The atmosphere was electric as patrons, young and old alike, waited in anticipation for the night to begin. I was not sure what to expect, except that I was about to experience a production of CATS. The longest touring musical in U.S. history was the creation of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and is based on T.S. Eliot’s book, “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.” As the lights went down, we were surrounded by total darkness; the only source of light was the green, glowing eyes of the cats peering in the darkness throughout the crowd. One feline pounced towards the child at the end of my row, sending her scrambling into her mother’s arms.
The cats made their way towards the stage, which resembled a foggy, moon-lit junkyard. They began to tell the story of the Jellice Ball. Once a year, the cats gather together at the Jellicle Ball to rejoice. The leader, a wise cat named Old Deuteronomy, selects one lucky kitty to enter the Heaviside Layer to be “re-born” into a new life. Various characters are introduced to us. First, we meet Jennyanydots, “The Old Gumbie Cat“, whose favorite pastime is sitting, sitting, (did I mention sitting?) all day long. The Rum Tum Tugger burst on to the scene, reminiscent of a rock star, shaking his hips, and driving all of the ”kittens” wild. He thinks he’s “the cat’s meow” and makes no bones about it.
We are then introduced to Grizabella, the Glamour Cat. She reminded me of a fading Hollywood starlet, with sad eyes and even sadder facial expressions. As she moved through the crowd of her peers, they shunned her as if she had the plague. At one time, she had been a part of this group of Jellicle Cats, but her desire to go out and explore the world on her own drove a wedge between them. She tried to parade around with elegance, yet painfully struggled to regain her dignity. Watching her almost brought tears to my eyes. As she is reminiscing, we hear a line or two of the song, “Memory”. She then slinks off into the darkness.
Several other colorful felines come on to the scene: Bustopher Jones, a hefty high-society cat who enjoys many a meal in the pubs he frequents. Mongojerrie and Rumpelteazer, high-energy partners who have a gift of getting into trouble. Victoria, the white cat, and Munkustrap, the large grey tabby round out the group. To the sound of crashing garbage cans and glass breaking, we become aware that trouble is brewing. As the end of the first act is coming to a close, we see Old Deuteronomy enter the junkyard. The skittish kitties once again come around to greet the great leader. His presence has a calming influence over them. Grizabella attempts yet again to establish a touch from one of her tribe to no avail. She again slinks off into the night, tail between her legs.
The second act begins with the Jellicle ball having ended. The cats are now content and lounging around Old Deuteronomy. We are met by two new members of the group: Gus, the Theatre Cat, and Skimbleshanks, the Railway Cat. Gus is an aged stage actor on the decline. He takes a moment and reminisces about his glory days, in particular, his starring role in “Growltiger’s Last Stand”. Several cats reenact his crowning achievement, complete with swashbucklers and dancing Siamese warriors. This part of the play was a bit confusing for me. What I did enjoy was the duet that was done in opera-like fashion.
After Skimbleshanks sang about his tending of his railcar, a thunderous crash has the cats scurrying in several directions. Macavity, an evil cat, shows up to wreck havoc on their celebration. His evildoers kidnap Old Deuteronomy. Two frisky kittens, Demeter and Bombalurina, sing a cabaret-style ditty about Macavity’s dirty deeds. He appears to perform his evil deeds and then, like a vapor, vanishes. Old Deuteronomy returns, but is actually Macavity in disguise. His plot is exposed and he battles with the other male cats. Macavity makes his escape by causing an explosion, sending the junkyard into complete darkness.
Rum Tum Tugger calls upon Mr. Mistoffelees, the Magical Cat. This part of the show was magnificent. I didn’t know what I liked best; the numerous pirouettes, the acrobatics, the dance number itself. Mr. Mistoffelees was absolutely magical. He brings light back into the junkyard and brings Old Deuteronomy back to us.
Grizabella returns again, mustering up all her energy to sing the signature song of the production, “Memory”. Chills came over me as she threw her heart and soul into this performance. With everything as it should be, Old Deuteronomy makes his selection as to who will be reborn with a new Jellicle life. It is none other than Grizabella herself. At this point, the other cats in the tribe reach out to her. We watch and cheer her on as she ascends into the Heaviside Layer.
The ending scene tells us that cats have three names: The one the owners give them, the name amongst their peers, and a secret name that one may never know. Cats have are a lot like people in many ways. They can be aloof, independent, lazy, greedy, regretful, and have a deep yearning for acceptance and love. This play combines several of these characteristics. We can see ourselves in their eyes if we really look.
Tuesday night, a “Memory” was made for every patron in the theatre, human and feline alike.
Looking to see 'Cats' performed in your neck of the woods? Check out www.razorgator.com to see if they have any tickets available.