Theatre review: Cats make memories for a new generation

Memories are being made for a whole new generation (and relived by many others) as the Cats come out to play in the national tour that just landed in the Queen Elizabeth Theatre this week.  Interestingly where most of these non-equity roadshow productions usually find their power in the ensemble, this production finds its strength from a few individual performances.

Having prowled around stages now for thirty years the idea of Cats is pretty much ingrained in our cultural psyche, although I am willing to bet most people think of it as simply a bunch of songs strung together about cats.  And while for the most part it is just those songs, there is also a metaphysical storyline that gets buried by a large heap of cat nip.

There is no denying that Cats is trapped in a time-warp, but given this particular version pulls from the original London and Broadway shows it is not unexpected.  For those like me that first saw Cats many years ago, it is at times both wonderfully nostalgic and ultimately unsurprising but I suppose it is hard to argue with a show that has gone on to be both the second-longest running musical in Broadway history and the longest continuously running touring show in the United States.  That the bulk of this current cast wasn’t even born when the show first appeared speaks volumes to its staying power.

Members of the cast of the national tour of Cats.
Members of the cast of the national tour of Cats on stage at the QE Theatre through April 15.

While as a company the cast lacks a real clarity with the lyrics in the larger group numbers, as if they are all singing through mouthfuls of cotton balls, they make up for it in their dance and in a few fine individual performances.   Among the highlights were Erica Leigh Hansen as Jennyanydots, with one of the best voices of the night and in contrasting performances by Christopher Sidoli as Asparagus and Growltiger.  Melissa Grohowski as Grizabella does a nice job as with “Memory”, the one memorable song of the show.

A physical show, the dancing, while definitely with an 80s flair, was for the most part tight and polished, with an appropriate cat-like lightness to the movements.  In one of the few solo dance numbers, Chaz Wolcott as Mistoffelees showed off his strengths in a ballet inspired number.  Along with admiring the strength of this cast in its dance abilities I admit it was also fun to simply watch some of the actors in the background lounging about, preening and fully embracing their catness.

Despite some solid dancing and a few individual performances, Cats is still little more than spectacle.  Kids love it when the cats prowl amongst them and their parents love it even more because it is both safe for the kids and a show they can share in the nostalgia; on opening night it was easy to spot the beaming 40-somethings who reveled in reliving their own childhood Cats experience with their own children.

Perhaps it is because I’m not one to live in the past but my first memory of Cats will always be the best.  Besides, perhaps unlike the average theatre-goer, I prefer that my cat theatre comes with a few scratches in addition to the purrs.

3 Out of 5 Stars Cats

Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber.  Based on “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” by T.S. Eliot.  Directed by Richard Stafford.  A Broadway Across Canada presentation of a Cats-Eye LLC production.  On stage at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre through Sunday, April 15, 2012.  Visit http://vancouver.broadway.com for tickets and information.

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