Review: "CATS" Lacks its Magic

The North American Tour Company of CATS. Photo by Matthew Murphy. 2019 (1).jpg
  • Jill Weinlein, Chief Los Angeles Critic

I was so excited to take my teenage daughter to see CATS at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. CATS was a Broadway sensation for over 18 years and the fourth-longest running show in Broadway history.

The first time I saw the musical was in the 1980s. Based on Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot and music by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, I shared some of my favorite “memories” of the show with my daughter while driving to the theater. Director Trevor Nunn and lighting designer Natasha Katz excitedly open the show with a multitude of large green cat eyes prowling up and down the aisle before they prance upon the dimly lit stage.

From row PP in the orchestra section, we could make out a large full moon above scenic designer John Napier’s “bigger than life” junkyard filled with a rusted car, oven, bedpost and other antique items.

As a Steven Spielberg “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” spaceship levitates up, the audience enthusiastically applauds as the intensity of the orchestra rises and cats gather to sing "Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats."

At times Katz lighting is dream-like while the cats are singing. A humorous moment is when a large leather boot is thrown in their direction to try to scare them off. I thought her choice of stringing party lights out into the audience and attaching them to the balcony, help include the audience into this festive feline party.

We learn that a cat must have “three different names” in “The Naming of Cats” number. They need “a sensible name, a fancy name and a dignified name to keep his tail perpendicular.”

The dance intensive musical is choreographed by Andy Blankenbuebehler (Hamilton) and is based on the original choreography by Gillian Lynne. It will appeal to the ballet crowd, as this talented and athletic cast display more ballet and modern dance moves, instead of cat-like creeping and pouncing. Victoria the White Cat (Caitlin Bond) twirls as a Prima Ballerina, signaling the beginning of the "The Invitation to the Jellicle Ball.” The Jellicles make "the Jellicle choice" about deciding which cat will ascend and come back to a new life.

I’m not sure why the creative team had the cats dancing with giant soccer and basketballs during the entertaining Jennyanydots (Emily Jeanne Phillips) tap dancing number. Maybe balls of yarn would be more believable.

Costume designer John Napier’s choice of attire for Jennyanydots looked more mouse than cat-like. While I appreciated many of the felines dressed in creative one pieces, I was again confused when aging feline Grizabella creeps out onstage looking more like the hunched over witch in Snow White. Wearing tattered layers and striped tights, she didn’t look the part. Also, in today’s anti-bully era, it was hard to watch the cats hiss, growl, claw, push and taunt this senior cat who has lost her luster. Fortunately, Fuller sings one of the most memorable songs ever in musical theater—“Memory” with beautiful emotion and shines onstage.

Another odd costume choice was Old Deuteronomy, who looks more like the Sasquatch in “Harry and the Hendersons.” As a large old cat that "has lived many lives" and "buried nine wives,” he is the tribe leader who chooses which Jellicle Cat will be reborn.

The Rum Tum Tugger hip thrusting number had Vegas elements to it, yet our favorite number of the evening was Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer (Tony d’Alelio and Rose Iannaccone), a pair of near-identical cats. These mischievous petty cat burglars make quite an entertaining team, causing trouble for human families. In my opinion, these two stole the show with their singing, cat-like dancing, and entertaining acrobatics.

Even though the show was sold out on Opening Night, there were empty seats after intermission. I must have built the show up too much, because my daughter didn’t enjoy the show, as much as I did the first time I watched CATS. She felt the show seemed long, dated, and the storyline hard to follow. She wished there was dialogue sprinkled throughout, instead of only repetitive singing and dancing.

I recently learned that Andrew Lloyd Webber and Steven Spielberg are working on a new film adaptation of CATS scheduled to debut in December 2019. The all-star cast includes Taylor Swift, Rebel Wilson, Jennifer Hudson, James Corden, and Ian McKellen. Maybe with that cast, the film will attract a new generation of CATS fans.

The Pellicle cats include Phillip Deceus as “Alonzo,” McGee Maddox as “Bill Bailey/Rum Tum Tugger,” Lexie Plath as “Bombalurina,” Mariah Reives as “Cassandra,” PJ DiGaetano as “Coricopat,” Liz Schmitz as “Demeter,” Keri René Fuller as “Grizabella,” Kaitlyn Davidson as “Jellylorum,” Emily Jeanne Phillips as “Jennyanydots,” Tion Gaston as “Mistoffelees,” Tony d'Alelio as “Mungojerrie,” Dan Hoy as “Munkustrap,” Timothy Gulan as “Peter/Bustopher Jones/Asparagus,” Tyler John Logan as “Plato/Macavity,” Anthony Michael Zas as “Pouncival,” Rose Iannaccone as “Rumpelteazer,” Ahren Victory as “Sillabub,” Ethan Saviet as “Skimbleshanks,” Halli Toland as “Tantomile,” Devin Neilson as “Tumblebrutus,” Brandon Michael Nase as “Victor/Old Deuteronomy,” Caitlin Bond as “Victoria,” along with Zachary S. Berger, Nicholas Burrage, Erin Chupinsky, Maria Failla, Justin W. Geiss, Laura Katherine Kaufman, Charlotte O'Dowd, Adam Richardson, Tricia Tanguy, and Andy Zimmermann.

The Pantages Theatre performance dates are February 26 to March 24, 2019, on Tuesday through Friday at 8 pm, Saturday at 2 pm & 8 pm, and Sunday at 1pm & 6:30 pm. There’s an additional performance on March 21st at 2 pm and no performance on March 24th at 6:30 pm. Cats is recommended for ages 5 and up. Tickets for Cats are now on sale starting at $49. Tickets are available at www.HollywoodPantages.com/Cats and www.Ticketmaster.com, by phone at (800) 982-2787 or in person at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre Box Office at 6233 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028 or Ticketmaster.com 1-800-982-2787.