“Cats” combines goofy lyrics with precise and well-choreographed dances in a lively and entertaining show.
The fourth-longest running Broadway show in history, “Cats” returned to the Tulsa Performing Arts Center this past weekend, full of exciting up-and-coming actors and revived with the incredible choreography of Andy Blankenbeuhler, best known for also choreographing “Hamilton.” Blankenbeuhler’s choreography has been and continues to be featured in many productions showing at the Tulsa PAC, and after seeing “Cats,” this comes as no great surprise.
“Cats,” based on a collection of T. S. Eliot poems, had many goofy rhyme schemes and interesting word choices. The music in the show was performed by a superb live orchestra. The intro number sounded like a dissonant nursery rhyme, playing upon the juxtaposition of adult themes with a childlike form. Further emphasizing the playfulness of the show, the cast of cats made their way onto the stage after running through the orchestra area.
The staging was absolutely incredible; a junkyard featuring several moving parts that allowed for actors to pop up in different places around the stage. The lighting is what really elevated this performance as it was almost like a discoteque for cats, fitting particularly during the song “Jellicle Ball” where the entire company is on stage at a dance.
My favorite number was probably “The Old Gumbie Cat,” featuring an amazing tap routine by chubby feline Jennyanydot. Of course, the featured dancer in the show is Victoria, a cat dressed in all white who it is almost impossible to take your eyes off of. The female characters in the show were interesting to pay attention to.
As is common in classical dance routines, the women were often being thrown around by men and were more often portrayed sexually even though all of the characters were cats. There is a particular trio of female felines in the show who have very sexualized dance routines and lyrics to sing that made me slightly uncomfortable at times. The show also dates itself by making references to catcalling; the audience still laughed heartily at these jokes despite the so-called progress that’s been made surrounding awareness of derogatory speech like this.
Arguably the main character of the musical, Grizabella, is a really peculiar aspect of this show for me. I’m not sure that there is a character in any other musical with less stage time and more notoriety. The most recognizable number from “Cats,” the powerful ballad “Memory,” is sung by Grizabella and then reprised later in the second act. Despite the fact that we’ve only really seen this cat once or twice before in the show and she hasn’t really sung or danced much, she receives a standing ovation for this one song, and it’s entirely deserved. The song is not only beautifully written, but the actress in this performance was outstanding.
This show was refreshing in that it was a very classic sounding and looking Broadway production as opposed to a lot of the more modern shows that I’ve seen lately. Additionally, this was the largest cast I’d seen in a live production before, and I was absolutely mesmerized by how many people could fit on the stage and move around each other and together so seamlessly. I will say, for the amount that the musical attempts to explain what a Jellicle cat is and isn’t, I still have no idea how to define a Jellicle cat, but with how much fun the show was, I’m not sure I really need to.