CLEVELAND, Ohio — Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cats” has been referred to as numerous issues since its world premiere in London’s West Finish in 1981.
“A weird mess.”
“A surrealistic nightmare.”
“The weirdest musical on the earth.”
It’s true, all of it, I can report after catching the opening evening efficiency of “Cats” at Playhouse Sq.’s Connor Palace. However that isn’t to say the present, on the town for the following three weeks, is essentially the, ahem, disaster you’ve heard about. There may be at all times magnificence to be discovered within the weird, the surreal and the bizarre.
Primarily based on T.S. Eliot’s “Previous Possum’s E-book of Sensible Cats,” the musical is like one thing you may expertise after chugging too a lot of these little cups of Nyquil: an enormous, wonderful fever dream populated by anthropomorphic cats, who take turns singing about themselves, ready for his or her chief to off the saddest cat amongst them.
• Preview: Again for the primary time in a decade, ‘Cats’ is poised to make new reminiscences at Playhouse Sq.
On the lookout for a compelling plot, or any semblance of a plot in any respect? Sorry, “Les Misérables” left city final week. How about music you may hearken to on repeat? “Hamilton” is right here subsequent month. Nonetheless, what “Cats” lacks in a cohesive narrative and catchy, memorable songs (the Broadway normal “Reminiscence” is the exception), it makes up for it with infectious vitality, exhilarating dance numbers and a enjoyable, unapologetically campy spirit.
That a lot is clear over the course of the primary three musical numbers, which inform you every little thing you must know. Jellicle Cats are a tribe of felines — some sensible, many dramatical, others pragmatical, and so on., — who collect one evening annually for the Jellicle Ball, the place underneath the large Jellicle moon, their chief Previous Deuteronomy (Cameron Schutza), chooses one cat to journey on a floating tire to the Heaviside Layer and be reborn into a brand new Jellicle life.
Nonsense? After all. Jellicle isn’t even an precise phrase! Nevertheless it’s irresistible nonsense that units up the remainder of the present, which is basically a roll name of the solid of cat-characters. There’s Jennyanydots (Michelle E. Carter), the tap-dancing outdated Gumbie Cat; Rum Tum Tugger (Hank Santos), a curious cat with rock ‘n roll swagger; and Mungojerrie (Brian Craig Nelson) and Rumpleteazer (Taryn Smithson), a pair of mischievous cats with a proclivity for ballroom dancing. Act I closes with the introduction of Grizabella (Tayler Harris), a former glamour cat whose fall from grace has made her an outcast of the tribe.
Act II is when the medicine should’ve actually kicked in because the proceedings get much more unusual. Gus the Theatre Cat (John Anker Bow) sings of “The Awefull Battle of the Pekes and Pollicles” whereas the Jellicle cats recreate the legendary canine combat in makeshift Pug and Pomeranian costumes. Skimbleshanks (John Zamborsky) remembers his life as a railway cat simply because. And Magical Mr. Mistoffelees (Ibn Snell), the Jellicle’s conjuring cat, rescues Previous Deuteronomy from the clutches of the evil Macavity (Sam Buchanan) in an over-the-top, synth-infused quantity straight out of a low-budget sci-fi film from the Nineteen Seventies.
I didn’t know — and nonetheless don’t know — what to make of any of it. I simply know I couldn’t get sufficient.
Credit score that to the massively gifted solid led by Santos, who brings Elvis Presley vibes to Rum Tum Tugger. Nora DeGreen as Demeter and Erica Lee Cianciulli as Bombalurina ship two of the present’s finest vocal performances on “Macavity.” Bow is charming and humorous within the roles of Bustopher Jones and Asparagus. And Schutza’s deep, booming baritone belies Previous Deuteronomy’s Wookiee-like look. However any manufacturing of “Cats” is barely nearly as good as its Grizabella. Harris greater than delivers right here with a strong singing voice and a nuanced vary of emotion in a show-stopping efficiency of “Reminiscence.”
If the music doesn’t transfer you, the dancing will. Who knew? That includes new choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler (“Hamilton”) woven into Dame Gillian Lynne’s unique steps, the dance sequences are brimming with precision, grace and pleasure. Nelson and Smithson’s strikes on “Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer” are Mirror Ball Trophy-worthy. DeGreen and Cianciulli channel Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly on the jazzy “Macavity.” However the spotlight is the “Track of the Jellicles and the Jellicle Ball,” a powerful, impactful and bodily demanding prolonged dance-only sequence close to the tip of Act I that comes with ballet, up to date and lyrical dance.
“Cats” is every little thing you’ve heard: weird, no plot, an actual head-scratcher. However that’s a part of its appeal, an inexplicable high quality that has delighted the 75 million individuals worldwide who’ve made it one of the enduring musicals of all time. So, embrace “Cats” in all of its bizarre, stunning glory and also you’ll discover the present stays an entertaining spectacle filled with surprise and creativeness even in any case these years.
“Cats” is taking part in on the Connor Palace, 1615 Euclid Ave., Cleveland, Nov. 1-20. Tickets, $20-$100, can be found at playhousesquare.org or by cellphone at 216-241-6000.