Saturday, May 04, 2019

Musical Theater Review: "Cats"

The best way to appreciate "Cats" is to shed any preconceptions of what a musical should be and just enjoy the show for what it is -- a ballet rock opera.

Let Andrew Lloyd Weber's phantasmagorical fever dream of humanoid felines wash over you. Don't go looking for pesky things such as structure, plot or defined story beats.

Just sit back and bask in the bedazzling array of wacky costumes, acrobatic Andy Blankenbuehler choreography and wall-rattling songs.

It's easy to see why the show has generated such lasting appeal. Few productions go to such lengths to have cast members connect -- sometimes on close to a physical level -- with the audience. The aisles become back alleys through which the cats prowl, often setting feet on armrest for improvised flourishes.

Performers routinely bask in the glow of appreciative post-number applause, only to ham it up by greedily beckoning for still more adulation. Combined with expressive stagecraft that has the characters soaring, shimmering and sliding in a nonstop audiovisual onslaught, "Cats" is an ebullient ball of infectious energy.

The eager Centennial Hall crowd devoured every opportunity to reciprocate the interaction, responding with McKale Center-level applause to the succession of show-stopping numbers. Solos from the likes of Timothy Gulan (Bustopher Jones), Tion Gaston (Mistoffelees) and Ethan Saviet (Skimbleshanks) -- as well as dance breaks by Rose Iannaccone (Rumpleteazer) -- drop jaws and raise paws.

On the downside, the show is almost too energetic, potentially leading to a glazed-over exhaustion. It's hard to connect emotionally with the characters, since it's hard to know what anyone is doing, why they're doing it or what anything means. But anything approaching logic is best avoided. There are two types of people who will come out to see "Cats" -- those who are all-in and those who were dragged there by the true believers.

Even for the most cynical dogs in the audience, "Cats" is an arresting and giddy and shallow romp that's a sugar rush of feline fanaticism.

Cats is playing through Sunday at Centennial Hall as part of Broadway in Tucson. Buy tickets here.

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