Even the staunchest “Cats” fans know there is nothing new under the Jellicle Moon. But that’s cool; audiences will still have themselves a Jellicle Ball.
After an 18-year run -- that‘s at least three or four of a cat’s nine lives right there -- 7,485 performances on Broadway and several world tours, Andrew Lloyd Webber‘s musical take on T.S. Eliot’s “Old Possum‘s Book of Practical Cats” is very much alive and kicking. Pittsburgh CLO’s revival at the Benedum Center was an evening of musical clarity and astonishing dance.
There‘s really not much of a plot, but then, Eliot wrote poetry, not the book of a musical. In short, it’s a big night for the Jellicle cats, who gather for a once-a-year ceremony that will send one of their own to be reborn. We are introduced to a back yard‘s worth of felines: some outlandish (Kevin Loreque’s Rum Tum Tugger, a cross between Elvis and Peter Allen), some exquisite (Ken T. Prymus‘ Old Deuteronomy inspiring a lovely, dream-like, extended ballet), some playful (Will Porter and Mara Newbery as Munjojerrie and Rumpleteazer) and one heartbreaking (Elizabeth Stanley as Grizabella).
Grove City native Andrew Wilson is a second-act showstopper as the tumbling whirlwind, Mister Mistoffelees.
Directed and choreographed by Richard Stafford, “Cats” takes place on a mostly static, junkyard set. It’s crucial the cast liven up the place without being distracting, which it achieves with fluid grace. Those 80s-era Cats in legwarmers and glam rock hairstyles are everywhere: in the corners of the stages, sliding down over-sized tires and cast-off kitchen appliances.
If there‘s a nit to be picked, it isn’t with the performance but with the fact that there are just too many cats with too many stories.
Example: the tales of Gus, the Theatre Cat and Skimbleshanks, the Railway Cat, are perfectly entertaining. Were they part of a different sort of musical, they could be better appreciated as showcases. But “Cats” strings together so many of these little biographies, and since they are not designed to further the plot, Act II tends to wander a bit.
Once the focus snapped back to Grizabella, however, “Cats” really began to purr. Ms. Stanley, who is bound for Broadway this fall in a revival of “On The Town,” captured the sad desperation of a former beauty now old, faded, and shunned.
“Memory” is not merely the show‘s best-known number, it’s a classic that has been covered by everyone from Barbra Streisand to Susan Boyle. And in “Memory,” it all builds to the lines “Touch me, It‘s so easy to leave me, All alone with the memory, Of my days in the sun...”
Ms. Stanley was more than up to the task last Friday, and her high-belting drew spontaneous applause from the audience.
Back in the days when “Cats” was the longest-running show on Broadway, its tag line was “Now and Forever.” For the next week of this joyful revival, simply “Now” will have to do.
Maria Sciullo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1478 or @MariaSciulloPG.