From the moment the Cats of various London neighborhoods, their eyes eerily glowing, begin to gather on the Durham Performing Arts Center’s junk-yard/stage by crawling through the darkened audience, we are admitted to their mysterious lives. But, as they quickly reveal, we’ll never know everything there is to know about the world of cats. Perhaps, that’s one of the reasons this 38-year-old, Tony Award®-winning 1981 West End and 1982 Broadway musical still thrills audiences.
Cats is mysterious, and it’s as sensual as only cats can be. Its story is pure fantasy, but it’s the music that thrills. And DPAC‘s version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Broadway masterpiece is absolutely (pardon the pun) purr-fect!
Originally a book of poetry by T.S. Eliot, entitled Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, the story is about life and death and rebirth in the cat world. The cats attend the Jellicle Ball, a time of year when their leader, Old Deuteronomy (played by Brandon Michael Nase, whose strong baritone and perfect enunciation made the old cat appear even more scholarly), makes the decision to release one cat from its earthly labors and sends them to “cat heaven,” a place called the Heaviside Layer.
It’s a time when the cats gather to share their similarities and idiosyncrasies; and as they wait for the portentous moment to arrive, they have various philosophical discussions about cockroaches and mating, foods and family, and about life, aging, and death.
Though the storyline is not typical, as one theatergoer noted during intermission, there is a deeper, more important story about life itself and the way all beings age that brings a deeper meaning to the musical. When the last version of the signature song, “Memory” rings through DPAC, that imperative truth that we all will experience death follows us out into the night.
This is not to say that this show is dark and depressing. Far from it. DPAC‘s June 4-9 presentation of Cats is full of dance — everything from jazz to ballet to tap — and more funny moments than sad. It is filled with extraordinary characters from Rum Tum Tugger (played with finesse and enthusiasm by McGee Maddox), a male tomcat whose narcissistic sensuality arouses appreciation in females, both feline and audience members, to the dapper and overweight Bustapher Jones (Timothy Gulan, whose facial acting made up for the rather awkward costume). The music is beyond fabulous, with both soaring solos and powerful choral moments that put any church choir to shame.
As in any society, the cats also have within their ranks cats who are popular (such as Rum Tum Tugger) as well as some who are shunned. Old Grizabella (the incredible Keri René Fuller) is ancient and tattered, a cat who remembers being able to move, to dance, to sing; but now she can barely move. Other cats are both repelled and compassionate toward her; but ultimately, she is alone. She sings about her sadness in a meek version of “Memory” at the end of Act I.
A name which ripples through the feline community throughout the first act and repeats in the second is Macavity (an enthusiastic Timothy Tyler Logan), the “Napoleon of Crime,” a cat that gets away with everything. He causes some havoc but is ultimately chased off, and then it is time for Magical Mister Mistoffelees (Tion Gaston, the best dancer of the evening) to use his magical powers to prepare the way for Deuteronomy to make the Jellicle Choice.
The ancient Grizabella, who makes her way back to the stage, and again, begins to reminisce. This time, “Memory” is not a meek, subtle ballad but a last look at life that starts strong and gets larger and more powerful, until you think Fuller has reached her peak; but then the final soaring notes, and when she opens her mouth, the intensity increases a thousand percent. Wow. Just, wow.
Yes, Cats has been around forever, but the musical’s current North American Tour and its singers and dancers is worth taking out your credit card to make a visit to DPAC before the show ends on Sunday, June 9th.
SECOND OPINION: June 5th Burlington, NC Times-News review by Logan A. White for “Teens & Twenties”: http://teensandtwenties.com/cats-creates-wondrous-whimsical-experience/; and June 5th Raleigh, NC Triangle Arts and Entertainment review by Susie Potter: https://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2019/06/dpacs-cats-is-poetry-in-motion/.
The Durham Performing Arts Center presents CATS at 7:30 p.m. June 5 and 6, 8 p.m. June 7, 2 and 8 p.m. June 8, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. June 9 at 123 Vivian St., Durham, North Carolina 27701, in the American Tobacco Historic District.
TICKETS: $37 and up, plus taxes and fees. Click here to enter the digital lottery for $35 tickets.
DPAC Box Office: 919-680-ARTS (2787), firstname.lastname@example.org, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events-tickets/where-to-buy.
Ticketmaster: 800-982-2787 or https://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/369510/843992.
GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919/281-0587, Groups@DPACnc.com, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events-tickets/group-services.
SHOW: https://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/cats and https://www.facebook.com/events/2083880324977426/.
VIDEO PREVIEW: https://www.youtube.com/user/catsmusical.
DPAC NEWS RELEASES: https://www.dpacnc.com/news/detail/dpac-announces-digital-rush-lottery-for-cats and https://www.dpacnc.com/news/detail/cats-on-sale-at-dpac-on-december-6.
DPAC‘S 2018-19 “IT’S OUR NEW YORK, NEW YORK” SUNTRUST BROADWAY SERIES: https://www.dpacnc.com/suntrust-broadway/season/2018-2019-broadway-season.
THE TOUR: https://ustour.catsthemusical.com/, https://www.ibdb.com/tour-production/cats-518856, https://www.facebook.com/CatstheMusical/, https://twitter.com/catsbroadway, and https://www.youtube.com/user/catsmusical.
TOUR CAST: https://ustour.catsthemusical.com/our-people/cast/.
CREATIVE TEAM: https://www.ibdb.com/tour-production/cats-518856.
PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.dpacnc.com/, https://www.facebook.com/DPACNC, https://twitter.com/DPAC, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Durham_Performing_Arts_Center.
Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (1939 book of poetry): https://www.bl.uk/works/old-possums-book-of-practical-cats (The British Library) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Possum%27s_Book_of_Practical_Cats (Wikipedia).
The Book: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
T.S. Eliot (Angl-American poet/lyricist, nee Thomas Stearns Eliot, 1888-1965): https://www.britannica.com/biography/T-S-Eliot (Encyclopædia Britannica), http://www.eliotsociety.org.uk/ (T.S. Eliot Society), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/ts-eliot-8808 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0253672/ (Internet Movie Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T._S._Eliot (Wikipedia).
Cats (1981 West End and 1982 Broadway): http://www.catsthemusical.com/ (official website), http://www.andrewlloydwebber.com/shows/?show=Cats (Andrew Lloyd Webber web page), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/cats-2449 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0173714/ (Internet Movie Database: 1998 film), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cats_(musical) (Wikipedia).
Study Guide: http://www.tuts.com/Images/SeasonShowDocs/cats_study.pdf (Theatre Under the Stars of Houston, TX).
Baron Andrew Lloyd Webber (music): http://www.andrewlloydwebber.com/ (official website), https://www.britannica.com/biography/Andrew-Lloyd-Webber-Baron-Lloyd-Webber-of-Sydmonton (Encyclopædia Britannica), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/andrew-lloyd-webber-12073 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0515908/ (Internet Movie Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_Lloyd_Webber (Wikipedia).
Trevor Nunn (additional lyrics for “Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats” and “Memory”): https://www.britannica.com/biography/Trevor-Nunn (Encyclopædia Britannica), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/trevor-nunn-15788 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0638080/ (Internet Movie Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trevor_Nunn (Wikipedia).
Sir Richard Stilgoe (additional lyrics for “Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats”): http://richardstilgoe.com/ (official website), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/richard-stilgoe-8326 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0830206/ (Internet Movie Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Stilgoe (Wikipedia).
Dawn Reno Langley is the award-winning author of The Mourning Parade, as well as other novels, children’s books, nonfiction books, essays, short stories, poems, and articles. She is the creator of The Writer’s Hand Journals and runs workshops on using journals in every walk of life. A Fulbright Scholar, she holds the MFA in Fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier, VT, and the PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies from Union Institute and University. She lives in Durham with her dog, Izzy. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click https://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/.