“They’re quiet enough in the morning hours, they’re quiet enough in the afternoon, reserving their terpsichorean powers to dance by the light of the Jellicle moon…” ‘They’re’ that phenomenal flock of felines from the hit musical “CATS”, and they’re kicking the New Year into high gear at “The O.C.’s “ Segerstrom Center for eight purr-formances from January 17 through January 22! This is the show that’s credited with single-handedly initiating the British invasion of Broadway back in the 80‘s (not to mention redefining the concept of ’pop-opera’s’ everywhere,) so for anyone eager to experience the joys and wonders of live theatre, there isn’t a better production to do it with! Moreover, considering the center’s twenty-five year commitment to offering audiences the broadest range of stage-entertainment, students in particular will love this intricate intertwining of music, movement, drama, and ‘dazzle–even touches of intrigue. Each is introduced by an entire menagerie of unforgettable characters (–and still another reason this provides a top-notch introduction to the arts for first-time theater-goers too.)
Based on Writer T.S. Eliot’s 1939 classic “Old Possum’s Book Of Practical Cats”, its conversion to the musical stage began, we‘re told, when Andrew Lloyd Webber came across a copy in an airport shop and dared to express that wonderful thought: ’what if?” The end result first opened on May 11, 1981, at the New London Theatre in the West End; eight years later, it celebrated the start of many important milestones when it became the longest running musical in the annals of British theater, holding the final performance in 2002, on the 21rst anniversary of its premiere. It also made the record books on this side of the Atlantic, opening at the landmark “Winter Garden Theater” on October 7, 1982, then going on to become the longest running musical in Broadway history until ending its equally record-breaking 18-year run on September 10, 2000. Not only that, in October of 1991, it became the longest continuously touring show in American history to date. In fact, this national tour is the only production in North America sanctioned by Andrew Lloyd Webber himself.
Understanding that there is no one way to describe the behavior of cats in general, Eliot’s stanzas magnificently captured their spirit in its numerous forms–from playful to predatory, arrogant to adventurous–and always recognizing their more revered, enigmatic nature. This also provides plenty of opportunity to showcase widely varied styles of music and dance, and Webber’s score is similarly near virtuosic–brilliantly complimenting these original verses by melodically conveying the feel of a cat’s movement. Whether it be a soft, quiet tread or sudden, boisterous pounce, each number wonderfully captures ’the mystical divinity of unashamed felinity”. These include a jazzy ode to Jenny Anydots–the consummate domestic cat, “on whom any well-ordered household depends“. Then there’s the bouncy ‘Beau Brummell of Cats“, “Bustopher Jones”; stout but stylish, this sporty St. James’ street strutter is like Monty Woolley with whiskers and a tail; also, the gentle, “Gus”–the aged “Theater Cat” who recalls in a touching ballad his glory days long, long ago ‘on the boards‘. At the other end of the spectrum, the raucous “Rum Tum Tugger” is a spandex-wearing Mick-Jagger-in-his-own-mind with a bushy white mane; likewise, that ‘Napoleon Of Crime’ “Macavity, The Mystery Cat“ is the nearest thing to an actual villain this piece possesses.
Now, unique to this version, two more have been restored back into the ‘litter’. Last seen in the initial New York outing, “Psychic Twins” Coricopat and his identical sister Tantomile are always in sync, with matching costumes and make-up. Moving in perfect unison, where one goes, the other follows–their close cropped ears and wide eyes always feeling and foreseeing things before they occur, and together, they provide focus to the story indicating what is to come. Some hint as to their otherworldly nature is even given in the opening number during which Coricopat asks “Are you tense when you sense there’s a storm in the air?” His sister’s query quickly follows: “Can you ride on a broomstick to places far distant?”
Chief among the dramatis purr-sonae is “Old Deuteronomy“ the leader of the cats, who is, we quickly learn, ‘famous in proverb and famous in rhyme”, and “Grizabella“ a one-time “Glamour Cat“. Arguably the most important (and most remembered) character in the piece, her saga was added specifically for this stage adaptation, taken from the poet’s unpublished drafts of the manuscript. Her poem was cut from the final edition because the story of a once beautiful but now downtrodden pet was considered too sad and dark for a children’s book. Nonetheless, included here, it provides just the needed connection to make all these single, only marginally-related works into one cohesive plot.
An old junk yard provides a terrifically trashy ‘tabby-leau’ against which all the action is played out with common, everyday items enlarged to give the impression that the actors are merely no more than the size of your average, neighborhood mouser. Comprising this multicolored, debris-laden backdrop are towering trash cans, gargantuan garbage, and humongous chunks of chain-link, all surrounding a large, broken-down car (complete with titanic-sized tire!) These variations in perspective effectively put the viewer in the ‘cat-bird seat’ when it comes to witnessing all the high-spirited happenings, and are one more reason that Segerstom Center, with its impressive 3000 seat auditorium and superbly balanced acoustics is an especially choice cradle in which these cats can rock (–and ‘rock’ they most certainly do!)
While those first tentative notes are heard, felines of all kinds gather for their annual “Jellicle Ball” where they’ll decide who, by the evening’s end, will ascend to a higher realm of existence known as the “Heaviside Layer” to be ’reborn’ into a new and better life. This reference to ‘kitty heaven’ is loosely inspired by Eliot’s play “The Family Reunion” in which he describes the afterlife. Yet that’s another standout element of the show: it slyly incorporates terms and allusions to its author’s other works. For instance, the lyrics for Grizabella’s hit, “Memory” were actually adapted from the writers’ sonnets “Preludes” and “Rhapsody on a Windy Night”. However, while this is undoubtedly the production’s ’cat-chiest’ show-stopper, there’s far more to this breath-taking score than just that! In addition, each of the technical aspects were so groundbreaking, they continue to set the standard for stage extravaganzas today (Is it any surprise that the show proved to be the “Cat’s Meow” at the 1983 Tony Awards–walking away with seven, among them ’Best Lighting’, ’Best Costumes’, ’Best Book Of A Musical’ and of course, ’Best Musical’?)
As 2012 begins, THIS is what’s new, Pussycat! If you‘ve never seen “CATS” before, ’dream of a new day’ and resolve to ‘cat-ch’ this engagement special enough for ‘nine life times‘! If you have, ’let the memory live again’. Show-times are Tuesday through Saturday evenings at 7:30 PM, with a Saturday matinee on January 21 at 2:00 pm. On Sunday, January 22 the curtain rises at 1:00 PM and 6:30 PM. Tickets start as low as $ 20.00 and may be obtained at The Segerstrom Center For The Arts’ Box Office located at 600 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa, online at www.SCFTA.org , or by calling (714) 556-2787. (The TTY number is (714) 556-2746.) For inquiries about group ticket discounts, call the Group Services office at (714) 755-0236.
Production Photos by Joan Marcus, courtesy “CATS-Eye Productions” LLC & The Segerstom Center For The Arts, Costa Mesa CA.; Special Thanks to the staff of The Segerstom Center For The Arts for making this story possible.