Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Review: (Toronto) Cats

Martin Samuel (photo by Rachel McCaig)
What is a Jellicle Cat?
CATS can’t answer that question, but it’s still good fun.
by Dave Ross
I’ve never seen CATS. I’ve known it was out there, and I’ve known it was wildly popular. As a child, we had a recording (on vinyl, no less) of the original cast recording… and I could never get through it. Truthfully, I was scared of the album art. I never seemed to connect with the material. As an adult, I’ve been curious as to its popularity – where does it come from? Finally, 21 years into my exposure to musicals, I finally had the chance to see this show, and I still can’t answer my question. 
While I’m not a fan of much of the material, this cast gives everything they have to their performances. Ma-Anne Dionisio (Grizabella) nailed me to my seat during her performance of Memory, and Jay T. Schramek does a most energetic and entertaining Skimbleshanks, the Railway Cat. Indeed, the entire ensemble is highly-polished, and exceptionally talented. With just one or two exceptions, not a note was missed, a particular challenge while performing Gino Berti’s demanding and energetic choreography.
Tim Webb’s production design just works, providing many opportunities for surprise entrances and exits, and some clever conversions into new settings. Bradley A. Trenaman’s lighting design is always appropriate, from darkness of the junkyard to the brilliance of the magic show of Magical Mr. Mistoffelees. I was most impressed by the Holographic ParaMotion Design of Hagen Carlile, Paul Duffy, Zhen Liang, and Zoran Vranjes. Used only at a climactic point in the production, it is beautiful, tasteful, and unobtrusive in its execution. 

CATS is a curious show. It has an almost non-existent plot, with the text lifted principally from The Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot. The show can feel very jumbled, and one must disconnect themselves from the desire for a plot in order to enjoy it. I was able to enjoy myself once I stopped trying to make sense of what I was seeing. This show is principally about dancing, choreography, vocals, and, true to its title, cats. It is certainly a product of its time, with its jazzercise costumes (Lisa Magill) and synth-heavy orchestrations. However, it somehow just works. And while I’m not a particular fan of the show, there is nothing to criticize in this production. From a dedicated cast and a slick production design, CATS is high-energy romp through some very eclectic material. 

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