Review: CATS brings a feline frenzy to the Landmark

Review: CATS brings a feline frenzy to the Landmark

Andrew Lloyd Webber's classic musical prowled and delighted at the Landmark Theatre on Tuesday night.
Published: April 28, 2022
The company of the 2021-2022 national tour of CATS
The company of the 2021-2022 national tour of CATS

The best part of CATS is not the story. Because, well, CATS is just that: a musical about cats.

The Andrew Lloyd Webber fan favorite is inspired by T.S. Eliot’s 1939 collection of poems, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. The musical was a smash-hit in London and on Broadway, where it premiered in October, 1982. As of 2022, CATS is the fourth-longest-running Broadway musical in history. 

On Tuesday night, the cast of the national tour slipped on their spandex to perform the odd yet undeniably magnetic musical. The story of CATS takes place over one night in a whimsical junkyard, and highlights a variety of cats and their personalities. From the tap-dancing Old Gumbie Cat, to the energetic Rum Tum Tugger, to the Magical Mister Mistoffelees, the show is non-stop song and dance. The flimsy plot concerns the Jellicle Ball, an event where the Jellicle cats decide which one lucky cat will rise from London’s back alleyways to the glorious Heaviside Layer.

Aiden Pressel as Macavity in the 2021-2022 national tour of CATS
Aiden Pressel as Macavity in the 2021-2022 national tour of CATS

The lack of story is made up for by the entertainment factor of the show, specifically the lighting design and choreography. Lighting designer Natasha Katz deserves a Tony for her stunning work. She seamlessly worked with colors and effects to create an atmosphere where the lighting was a character itself. Set under the light of a full moon, the set pieces had lights sewn into them, as well as the costuming. A sparkling jacket made Mister Mistofelees even more magical during his iconic number, and a hand-held lamp by the dancers following Macavity’s trouble created a soft intimacy on stage. 

At one moment, the stage went completely black, and lit up in strobe-like effects alongside accents in the musical score. This effect resulted in snapshots of the dancers in mid-air, almost as if they were frozen in time by an electrical lightning strike. 

Choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler – based on the original choreography by ballerina and choreographer Gillian Lynne – was full of classic dance references. I especially loved the quoting of Bob Fosse movement during numbers “Macavity, the Mystery Cat,” and many of the movements in the upbeat sections of “Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats” had a rhythm-generated approach. 

 

The company of the 2021-2022 national tour of CATS
The company of the 2021-2022 national tour of CATS

The structure of the musical score is quite simple, with multiple reprises quoting prior songs and themes, many of which are from the Jellicle Ball and the rousing ballad “Memory.”

The show, while lacking substantial themes that relate to art and society today, is quite entertaining. One miss, however, hailed from “The Old Gumbie Cat.” Tap dancing often has a performative role in a show; adding spectacle and asking for applause without enhancing the characters. I long for the day when tap can be integrated into the story. This CATS tap number broke the fourth wall and explicitly entertained the audience, but didn’t enrich the Old Gumbie Cat. Comparatively, the movement in the rest of the show derived from classical jazz and ballet and held a certain subtlety to enhance the story and characters. 

CATS was a delightful experience by expert performers. Each cast member was extremely talented, and once in a while I love seeing shows that highlight supporting elements like choreography, lighting, set design and costuming instead of plot. These elements elevate CATS to be more than just a feline frenzy.

The touring company is currently at the Landmark Theatre, with performances until April 30. Get tickets here

Avatar for Katie Hopsicker

is a graduate student in the Arts Journalism program and a Digital Producer for The NewsHouse.