Indalecio De Jesus-Valentin and the company of CATS. Photo:Matthew Murphy
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Based on Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats byT.S. Eliot
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by T.S. Eliot, Trevor Nunn, & Richard Stilgoe
Directed by Trevor Nunn
A review by Brian Kennedy
Entire contents are copyright © 2022 by Brian Kennedy. All rights reserved.
Well, there is a plot somewhere in the PNC Broadway in Louisville-presented CATS, the Musical, now performing at Kentucky Performing Arts. At least while looking for it, audiences could enjoy the constant movement and impassioned vocal performances.
CATS, based on T.S. Eliot’s work “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats”, is about a group of cats called Jellicles. One night, they come together to determine which cat will enter a higher realm called the Heaviside Layer. How that cat is chosen, what the criteria are, or even why a cat would want to be chosen is either never explained or, at the very least, lost under the numerous dance numbers, special effects, and songs that are more about character introductions than plot.
At least the singing and, especially, the dancing (the latter thanks to choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler) made the show entertaining. The ensemble moved through each 80s style, synthesizer-based song with high energy, doing backhand springs, turns, jumps, and, appropriately cat-like movements throughout.
There’s even a 10-minute dance break near the end of Act I featuring the company performing some of the most creative dance moves that, despite adding nothing to the story, was great fun to watch. None of the ensemble members stood out, but that wasn’t the point. It was a great, cohesive effort by all involved.
The songs were very well-performed and certainly etched in…well…memory, long after the show ended. “The Rum Tum Tugger”, for instance, featured the namesake character (Zach Bravo) as an over-the-top rockstar type performing to music that evoked Bat Out of HelI-era Meat Loaf. His sometimes raspy vocals, body shaking, and overall presence had the felines onstage and some audience members screaming. It was easily the highlight of Act I.
Act II, however, had its own moments, especially with two songs that have been etched in musical lore for some time now. “Magical Mister Mistoffelees” was an experience to watch with the strong vocals of Bravo and the titular character (Paul Giarratano) mixed with the enthusiastic choreography and additional vocals from the ensemble.
Then, there’s “Memory”, a song that even those who have not seen this musical have are familiar with. Lloyd Webber must have wanted it that way, as it appears three times in the show. However, each rendition was better than the last. Grizzabella (Tayler Harris) performed a reserved, somber version at the end of Act I that echoed the desperation of her character at that moment.
In Act II, the ensemble took a brief turn with the number and sounded like a gospel choir, which was incredibly uplifting. Later in the act, Harris returns to the song, and this time she’s much more confident, more sure of herself, more ready to be heard. It appropriately showed the growth of Grizzabella and led to the longest applause from the audience at the song’s end.
The ensemble was singing and dancing while performing in head-to-toe black-and-white cat costumes that wouldn’t be that out of place at a KISS concert.
The scenery, meanwhile, featured a moon backdrop and a futuristic junkyard with everything seemingly made of metal, including the hubcaps and ladders. There was more than enough room for the CATS company at Kentucky Performing Arts to perform their energetic choreography throughout the stage and on top of the scenery.
January 18 -23, 2022
Broadway in Louisville
Kentucky Performing Arts
501 West Main Stree
Louisville, KY 40202
Brian Kennedy is a nearly life-long Louisville resident who has performed in plays since 2004. He also wrote extensively about the Louisville theatre scene for Louisville.com and Examiner.com from 2009-2015. Currently, he maintains the theatre blog LouBriantheater. When not involved in the theatre scene, he is an avid runner, participating in 5Ks throughout the state and in southern Indiana.