If you ask animal lovers, they would say that the world is divided into two types of people: dog lovers and cat lovers. I am a cat lover who can appreciate the genuine nature of dogs.
For many years, I had a cat whose original family name was Kitty Grant. Alas, he must have lived his nine lives quickly, because he died after nine years of being a member of my household.
Kitty was an interesting character. In his younger days, he would hide behind large objects, wait for me to pass by and then jump out to try to scare me. As he got older, his favorite pastimes included lying on my chest and watching me sleep, curling up inside brown paper bags, and carefully watching gentlemen callers.
Even though I would like to think that Kitty was a special cat, he wasn’t any different from most other cats, a species that has been interesting since their domestication in ancient times.
Cats, the musical variety, debuted on London’s prestigious West End Stage in 1981 and has been a staple of world theater ever since. Performed in places such as Argentina, Germany, Hungary, Mexico, and New York’s Broadway, Cats has enjoyed one of the longest runs in the history of theater. With its plot based on T. S. Eliot’s 1939 book, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, and a musical score by Andrew Lloyd Webber, it is a musical that I had always wanted to see.
So, when Broadway Across America’s Cats opened last weekend at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale, I jumped at the chance to watch it. I’m sure you can imagine that the night I sat in the audience at the Au Rene Theater I had pretty high expectations. I came away realizing why this musical had a hard time getting anyone to bankroll it: It’s weird. A bunch of humans dressed like felines, moving like cats and breaking into song. And the plot isn’t spectacular.
According to the storyline, the Jellicle cats have gathered in a junkyard to find out which one of them will be sent to the Heavyside Layer by Old Deuteronomy, played by Jeremy Brauner.
Old Deuteronomy is thought of as a father cat and is, in fact, father to some of these cats. Meanwhile, to make themselves more appealing, they introduce themselves by their secret names, because cats have three names: the name their family calls them, their dignified, scientific name and their secret name.
As odd as Cats is, though, it is a good musical for kids and one the whole family can enjoy — once. I had a hard time sitting still and watching these “creatures” strut across the stage. Some of them are easy on the eyes. But characters such as Old Deuteronomy and Grizabella (Kathryn Holtkamp) with their old-looking coats are creepy.
There were a few numbers that are can’t-miss in my book: Macavity, performed by Demeter (Madison Mitchell) and Bombalurina (Ashley Chasteen), and Mr. Mistoffelees and The Rum Tum Tugger, both sung by Rum Tum Tugger (Matthew Taylor).
Many Cats fans would argue that Grizabella’s Memory is the best song but, then, again, I have never been one to enjoy bleeding heart songs. I like songs with sass. Macavity gives the women of the Jellicles a chance to shine on their own. Tugger is an Elvis-like rascal with the craziest facial expressions of these felines.
Chaz Wolcott’s Mistoffelees, I have to mention, is the best and applause inducing dancer of the Jellicles. Mistoffelees is the magician-like cat who is light on his feet and maintains the awesome feat of being able to execute multiple turns in quick succession, one of the hardest dance moves to master.
While I admire all of the cast for their lithe bodies and precise feline movements, I have to say Cats feels like a cat nap gone wrong. I’m sure I will stand alone in this assessment. That’s fine. It’s not like I’m a cat-hater. Despite sometimes wondering what went on in Kitty’s head, I never really wanted him to hop up and start telling me his life’s story and his secret name.
Then, again, I am curious: What exactly is the Heavyside Layer?
• For more information on Cats and its touring schedule, you check www.broadwayacrossamerica.com.
Kimberly Grant may be reached at KAliciaG@aol.com.