As I arrived at the Cadillac Palace and acquired my tickets at 7:31 PM, Cats was on the verge of commencing, which meant -- according to the ushers who were enforcing this "seating hold" -- that all of us latecomers were doomed to the elegant theater lobby to watch the first song on a television monitor. As the overture drew to a close, the heavily makeup-ed and costumed felines slunk through the lobby to prepare for their entrance through the back of the house, pawing the air and making kitty faces at the herd of us tardy audience members. I wasn't entirely sorry for being late, I thought, as I watched the cats slip through the theater doors and proceed to crawl and saunter down the aisles; having seen the show twice before, I knew that if you had an aisle seat, you were most likely to be rubbed against or purred at by one of the Cats as they made their way down the aisles to the stage, something that I'm keen to avoid, as I get the same treatment every day already from my real cat at home.
Not that it mattered much, anyway; once I finally arrived at my seat, I saw that it was not on an aisle and therefore out of reach. Don't get me wrong, I love cats to death -- one of the reasons I find this show so fascinating, because, in the midst of all the dancing, singing, costumes, and lights, it really does make interesting and accurate statements about the mystery and nature of cats, my favorite being from the last song of the show that profoundly states, "So, first your memory I'll jog / And say a cat is not a dog." But this proclaimed truth only sparks my love for my own cat sitting at home curled up in her chair; it doesn't justify an actor with a tail and striped unitard nuzzling against my lap.
However, this remains to be my only qualm with the show as a whole; I used to take issue with the many extended dance numbers, as I always do when it comes to Andrew Lloyd Webber, but the more I see the show, the more I appreciate the dance sequences. When it comes to portraying cats, the singing and costumes can only convince the audience to a point, the rest has to be movement. There were many moments during the show where I would pay attention to the actors not in the spotlight, and they would slyly move their heads or slink around each other with very much the same fluidity and silence of a cat. Oddly enough, the two cats who are considered the main characters, that is, Grizabella the Glamour Cat and the Jellicle leader Old Deuteronomy, do the least amount of moving throughout the show. The ensemble cats and other featured characters are constantly running, crawling, sliding, flipping, or climbing around on every surface of the stage; I'm always astounded by their flexibility, not to mention their constantly pointed toes. And in the moments where there was only one singing cat to take the stage, the others sat or kneeled, chests heaving, and caught some much-needed breath.
As I paged through the program during intermission, I couldn't overlook the fact that this was quite a young cast. All of the actor bios were very short, nearly every one boasting a recently-graduated thespian with only a handful of previous touring credits of which to speak. Philip Peterson, as Old Deuteronomy, seemed to be the most experienced, his bio listing lead roles he's played in Jekyll & Hyde, The King and I, and The Man of La Mancha. Although pleasantly surprised by the overwhelming talent and energy of such a youthful cast, I was most impressed with Anastasia Lange as Grizabella, who has only one other touring role credited to her and who has returned to Cats for a second season. Although as stated above, she has no big dance numbers and barely has much movement at all besides pathetically staggering across the stage in hopes that the other cats will take pity on her and accept her, she does have a particular solo near the end that serves as the climax of the show, a little song you may have heard of called "Memory." I was blown away by the power, clarity, and control in which Miss Lange hit the C-note at the creshendo of Broadway's most famous ballad, and the chills in the air were palpable as her vocals descended and rested on the final lyric, a faint whisper of oh my God sounding somwhere behind me before fervent and vigorous applause erupted into the theater.
Although Cats can no longer claim the title as Broadway's longest-running show (The Phantom of the Opera surpassed Cats in performance number a few years ago), it is still apparent why the show still brings in crowds of young and old. It is a strange musical, certainly, with no plot except for that of choosing which cat, of all the many types of cats, will receive the honor of going to "the heaviside layer" where the cat will then be reborn and return to "a different Jellicle life." I can understand where one might get turned off at or become confused by the overly-simplistic story, and I suppose I wasn't entirely filled with annoyance as I saw a couple people rise from their seats and leave in the middle of the show; it certainly isn't for everybody. But with beautiful and often catchy music by Webber, many verbatim lyrics taken directly from the poems of T.S. Eliot, a spritely and energetic cast, the soaring vocals of a show-stopping Grizabella, and a uniqueness unparalleled by any musical, classical or contemporary, it is clear why Cats still thrives and effortlessly draws in a crowd. With the humor, individuality, and truth the show provides on our favorite furry friends, it seems as though as long as there are cats, there will be Cats.