Very few events or individuals can pull off instantaneous recognition with only one name. Prince and Madonna make the premium cut of the top mono-named icons of the world, and CATS, the most widely celebrated and recognized musical produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber, gives those icons a run for their money. CATS is known for being the longest continuously touring Broadway musical in history, but this time around will only be playing for a week at Chicago’s Cadillac Palace Theater; the first performance took place Tuesday night May 1st, 2012.
CATS first opened in London in 1981 and then on Broadway in 1982. The show tells the ‘tail’ of a dynamic and talented tribe of Jellicle Cats. The audience is privy to an invitation to the cat’s annual Jellicle Ball, a celebration where the cats come together to decide who among them will ascend to the Heaviside Layer. It is quite appropriate to wonder what the Heaviside Layer is, because in this story, curiosity most certainly does not kill the cat. It is a place similar to Heaven where the chosen cat can take advantage of its remaining eight lives and come back with a new one. Before the ball each cat is allotted time to introduce themselves while they all vie to be chosen for the journey to the Heaviside Layer and reincarnation. The cats put on a pageant of sorts for the Jellicle patriarch Old Deuteronomy, an elder who has “lived many lives and married nine wives (maybe more)”, and is the authority designated to make the Jellicle Choice.
The audience is introduced to many cats from all walks of life as one by one they share their stories. Nowhere else but CATS can a human witness so many Jellicle autobiographies set to such beautiful songs and stunning choreography! Throughout the play characters interact with and address the audience directly; solidifying CATS as one of the most thrilling and unique theater-going experiences.
Metaphorically a celebration of diversity, CATS also celebrates song and dance as a means of expression and narration. I always appreciate innovation and originality and CATS is an original musical through and through. The story is told, characters developed, and emotions expressed all through dance, movement, and song without the help of supporting dialog. The costumes were luxurious and colorful, the cast’s voices golden, and the choreography and sheer talent of capturing the most beautiful feline energy in every precise movement was simply intoxicating. What CATS may seem to lack in conventional dialog, it makes up for in magic, brilliance, and pure imagination.
Based on T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, CATS has been seen by over eight and a half million audience members, translated into more than ten languages and has won seven 1983 Tony Awards including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, and not surprisingly, Best Lighting and Best Costumes. So, dear readers, if a flawlessly executed pirouette makes your toes curl, beautiful colors, lights, and special effects dilate your pupils, the celebration of diversity liberates your spirit, or you simply enjoy the idea of witnessing a worldwide phenomenon, CATS is the musical for you!
*Photos Courtesy of Press Contact: Margie Korshak, Inc. and Broadway In Chicago