‘Cats’ At The Kravis Center Is… Well, Cats

When tallying the shows that I’ve been to as a critic that I probably never would have gone to see otherwise, Cats definitely has to top the list. In fact, I don’t think I was even aware that Cats was still on tour until I received an invite to the production currently playing at the Kravis Center

This being because, especially after the terribleness of the movie adaptation became a topic of widespread cultural conversation, I couldn’t imagine that too many people in their right mind would still be interested in seeing it.

But, in the spirit of adventure, I decided to accept a press ticket, assuming that the experience would at least be interesting, and that it certainly was. For one thing, judging by the relatively full orchestra, it turns out that quite a lot of people are still down to go see Cats

Not even that, but I noticed a good handful of people wearing actual cat ears and other cat-themed clothing to the proceedings, which means the show must still have some dedicated fans, which in turn reminded me of a recent conversation I had about the fact that associating mostly with people who share my sophisticated tastes can leave me a little out of touch with the simplicity of the masses. 

Not that there’s anything wrong with liking Cats, of course. However, though I generally lean towards being as positive as I can while still being honest about shortcomings out of respect for and goodwill towards the local theatre community, since Cats is already a global phenomenon and thus unlikely to be harmed in any serious way by the appraisal of some nobody on a theatre site, I do feel as if I have a license to be a little…well, catty. 

So… claws out, folks. The plot of Cats, such that there is a plot, revolves around the Jellicle Ball, an event in which a tribe of cats called the Jellicles use song and dance to try to impress their patriarch, Old Deuteronomy. The winner of this competition will get a chance to ascend to a realm called the Heaviside Layer. 

However, I’m not sure I would have had even this basic idea of what was going on had I not had some foreknowledge of the show, partially because I couldn’t make out a lot of the lyrics from my seat near the back of the orchestra and partially because of the show’s general incoherence. 

And though the songs were all relatively amusing in and of themselves, with no real “narrative” I could hang onto, I also found myself struggling to stay engaged. This was despite overall excellent costuming and some fun special effects, the most memorable of which was probably the glowing costume pieces used in “Magical Mister Mistoffelees.” 

It was also despite some incredible dance sequences, and a clearly competent cast. Keeping up with such demanding choreography obviously takes prowess, and none of the ensemble stood out as not living up to the task. 

Tayler Harris as Grizabella and John Anker Bow as Gus stood out as perhaps the best vocalists of the bunch, and the whole cast should also honestly just be commended for being able to take Cats seriously night after night, because I could scarcely manage to take it seriously for one. 

This is largely because the show’s characters are not only cats but cats that have bizarre anthropomorphic (human-like) characteristics. I just couldn’t buy into the idea of cats, for instance, overseeing a train (which, can cats on a train be the new snakes on the plane?), being woeful out of work actors, or patronizing local establishments. Even the pathos of “Memory,” the show’s most famous song, was muted by my realization that it was basically about an old cat wanting to be pet rather than any relatable human concerns.  

Though this did make for a few moments that both my guest and myself started laughing hysterically at the sheer absurdity of it all, those didn’t feel like enough to redeem the evening, or to make it pass any more quickly. Without a solid story behind it, spectacle is just spectacle, no matter how well-danced, well-sung, or well-delivered, and, at least in my book, spectacle alone does not good theatre make. 

Then there’s the fact that, in an ordinary bad show, you can still at least occupy your mind by following the movement of the plot. With Cats, there was nothing to do but wait for the next diversion, so I started to feel pretty early on like I was just waiting for it to end. 

In fact, by the end of Act 1, I found the whole thing so tedious that I was tempted to head out at intermission to go home and hang out with my actual cats, whose company I generally find more intellectually stimulating than I found this musical. But, being that in taking it on as an assignment I’d committed to seeing it through, I did the next best thing and ordered a double bacardi soda, which did help matters. Slightly.

In that vein, though, I could see how children might be more appreciative of the silliness and simplicity of Cats, though I wonder if even they would have the attention span to sit through a whole 2.5 hours of it. 

Finally, to end on an upnote, I did find it heartening that local animal shelter Peggy Adams had set up a table outside the theater to promote pet adoptions. For I have always been a cat person if not a Cats person, so perhaps the best approach I can take to the show is the same shrug of the shoulders with which I might react to my cat walking across my keyboard or coughing up a hairball on my rug. 

In the end, cats will be cats, and Cats will be Cats, and there’s really not a whole lot that any of the rest of us can do about it. And, for whatever reason, a lot of people do really love this show. So, if you think it’ll be your jam, you’ve got until this February 13 to check it out for yourself!

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