The trailer to “Cats,” a long-running Broadway musical which is now being turned into a star-studded movie with Taylor Swift and Dame Judy Densch, has once again caused a tidal wave of people who either love, hate, or are confused about this extravaganza. Having just seen the touring production at the gorgeous James M. Nederlander theater in Chicago, and having also read countless snarky comments about it on Facebook, I can give some insight.
First of all, the touring production was spectacular, with McGee Maddox as Rum Tum Tugger giving a stellar performance and adding a little bit of an Elvis personality into his character, and of course, Keri René Fuller, who made her national tour debut as Grizabella the Glamour Cat offering up a heartfelt and flawless performance of the show’s most famous song, “Memory,” which by itself was worth the price of admission. We made a great weekend out of it, giving me a chance to wear my new double-breasted suit with high-peaked collar, take the missus out to Ming Hin, the best dim sum restaurant in the Midwest, and enjoy the luxury of the Kimpton Allegro right in the theater district and walking distance to the theater. The Kimpton chain is dog-friendly, so we brought our Boston Terrier Ling Ba with us, who was somewhat dismayed with our choice of show.
One of the biggest criticisms of Cats is that it lacks much of a plot. In fact, this was the theme of a very entertaining parody episode of “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” where Kimmy’s friend and roommate Titus Andromedon weasels his way onto the stage, only to discover the hidden secret of the show, which is that the actors just make it up as they go along.
Indeed, the plot is thin, and revolves mostly around introducing the quirky personalities of a tribe of alley cats, who all compete in an annual Jellicle Ball to determine which among them gets the privilege of ascending to the Heaviside Layer, a peculiar version of cat heaven. Along the way there is some drama, with the other cats initially rejecting the lonely and disheveled Grizabella, and as the song suggests, exploring the meaning of happiness.
If you’re going to the show expecting a strong and dramatic storyline, you will be disappointed, and those who enjoy Cats the most enjoy it for the whimsical costumes, the intricately choreographed dance, and to hear the play’s best-known song, “Memory,” which has been recorded by countless recording artists, most notably, Barbara Steisand. I am looking forward to hearing Jennifer Hudson’s version in the new movie, and plot or no, any movie with Dame Judy is worth seeing.
Dan Blacharski is editor-in-chief of TheVivant.com.