Many of us have a “Memory” about Cats. An iconic musical that debuted in 1981, I was first attracted to it because of the enormous attention to movement, a predecessor of today’s dancicals.
Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera gave it another encore, but the audience — and particularly those around me who sang along and commented throughout — responded as if it were a welcome old friend.
It’s been a while since I have seen or heard bits and pieces of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s hit. So I had fresh eyes and ears for it, ready to make some new memories for myself.
This feline musical fantasy seemed more like a traditional musical on Friday at the Benedum Center. It traverses so many styles, from British musical hall to jazz. But even Rum Tum Tugger, a parody of Mick Jagger that was so current back in the ’80’s, would now be considered conservative.
And when you think about how about tap dancing Jennyanydots, Gus the theater cat, with his dynamic character change, and British musical hall duo of Mungojerry and Rumpleteazer, it’s clear that this is a tribute to veteran artists…cat-sized.
They were all terrific — the CLO was smart to build the cast around artists who have performed their roles before, either regionally, on national tour or on Broadway (including a powerful Ken T. Prymus, who had performed the eternally wise Deuteronomy thousands of times, and high-flying Grove City native Andrew Wilson as Mr. Mistofelees). A smart move!
They filled it in with a lot of young local talent, poised and professional. The exception to those rules was Tony Award-winning Elizabeth Stanley, who had never performed Grizabella, but, with an emotionally-laced Memory, stole the show.
This show has no easy parts. When it first came to Broadway, the cast spent weeks just learning how to move like cats. A boneless ease. Stretching and preening. Head darting on constant alert. And they can’t curl up and rest when the score is so staggeringly complex for its range and harmonies.
This Cats was remarkably stunning in so many ways, a real CLO achievement. Given the short rehearsal period, the ensemble was remarkably cohesive. The accoutrements — costuming, lighting, scenic design and orchestra were all first rate. And the Journey to the Heavyside Layer was nothing short of, well, heavenly.
For more information, click on CLO.