September 18, 2008
Purr-Fectly Good Production of ‘Cats’ Opens
By Pat Reavy Deseret News
"CATS," national tour, Capitol Theatre, through Sunday (355-2787 or www.arttix.org), running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes (one intermission)
On Tuesday night at the Capitol Theatre, there were plenty of cats with peculiar names like Mungojerrie, Rumpelteazer, Deuteronomy, Grizabella, Macavity and Mr. Mistoffelees. But each was as familiar to theater fans as the name of Andrew Lloyd Webber himself.
Webber's award-winning musical, "Cats," which at one time held the distinction of being the longest running musical in Broadway history, prowled into Salt Lake City for opening night.
This fine national touring production is a strong balance of good singing, dancing and ornate costumes, which are the cat's meow.
Cats opened in London in 1981 and on Broadway the following year. It's based on poems in T.S. Eliot's "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats" published in 1939.
The loose storyline is set in a junkyard where the tribe of Jellicle cats has made its yearly gathering to decide who should be chosen to make the journey to the Heavyside Layer to be reborn to a new life. One after the other, each cat tells their story through song and dance.
The cocky swagger and strut of the Rum Tum Tugger (Danny Beiruti) provided one of the highlights of the night in Act I. The divine dancing of the entire company was showcased during The Jellicle Ball.
Act II is carried by a series of strong individual performances that begin with Gus, the old Theatre Cat (Ryan William Bailey) who has a flashback to his performance as a swashbuckling pirate in "Growltiger's Last Stand."
The magical Mr. Mistoffelees (Jonathan Mercer) dazzled the audience with his dance moves and stage special effects. The biggest applause of the evening was reserved, however, for Grizabella (Anastasia Lange), who belted out the iconic "Memory."
The familiar lyrics "Touch me, it's so easy to leave me" bounced off the theater walls as the former Glamour Cat who is now just a shadow of her former self begs for the other cats to accept her back into the tribe.
The stage is a series of oversized objects, such as a stove, the rear of a car and a tire, all made to be proportionate to size of the cats -- or in this case the actors. A string of lights connects the stage and the balcony. The actors also aren't confined to the area up front, as all the theater is truly a stage for the actors who occasionally prance into the audience.
With any well-known production that has a pedestal in Broadway history, there are bound to be comparisons from one production to the next. The current production at Capitol Theatre doesn't have all the glitz of the Broadway version. And what one wouldn't give to hear a full orchestra performing the music instead of a synthesizer.
But on its own merit, this excellent production should leave all audiences, veteran and casual theatergoers alike, purring with delight.
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