- "CATS" BACK: To much meowing.
Robinson Center Music Hall, Nov. 13
The much-loved fusion of surrealistic theater and T.S. Eliot otherwise known as “Cats” recently stormed Robinson Center Music Hall for a three-performance, two-day run. Audience appetite for the Andrew Lloyd Webber production, which is now in its 26th year, is seemingly insatiable. And if the reaction of the Little Rock audience is any indication, that desire shows little sign of abating.
The furry leotards, the sass of the characters, the strobe lighting and smoke machines and a storyline that consists of cats singing about their lives and their catness create a bizarre, dreamlike production. The poems in Eliot's “Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats” are set to music and sung with all the pomp and glory of Broadway. Most of the stories are by now well known. Grizabella the Glamour Cat and Rum Tum Tugger, to name just two, are endearing cats whose behavior is uncannily human. Grizabella, the one-time beauty who has fallen from her youthful glory over time, and Rum Tum Tugger, the Elvis-esque heartthrob, full of bravado, were both convincingly played by actors Tricia Anguy and Zander Meisner.
Anguy, in particular, threw the audience into a tizzy with her delivery of the musical's seminal number, “Memory.” The song is a lament, an ode to human longing for the past. It is the production's most somber moment, in sharp contrast to the show's otherwise overwhelmingly playful energy. Grizabella's tragic tale, coupled with Anguy's smooth, tender vocals and the depth of the song, helped to anchor the otherwise fluffy storyline.
Scenes like one in which Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer, two spunky, troublemaking cats, sing with whimsical abandon as they cartwheel across the stage, reveal “Cats” as light-hearted entertainment on a big-production budget. If there's anyone out there who doesn't already know, this is not social theater. The involvement of Eliot's work notwithstanding, it is not even an achievement in drama. People flock to see “Cats” because it's fun. Most of the actors are brash and bold, made up in exaggerated face paint and costumery. The comedy is simple — sexual innuendo, pelvic gyrations, quick rear-end shakes and so forth. “Cats” is a vainglorious extravaganza, reminiscent of some kind of East Village transvestite theater. But the people can't get enough.