From the Boston Herald, Apr. 15, 201o
I get it. I see now why some people despise musical theater. Because when they hear the word “musical” they think of this: people in furry ears and painted spandex, slinking around on a cartoony set belting repetitive pop ballads and taking themselves completely seriously.
“Cats” holds the record as the second-longest-running show on Broadway, just below Andrew Lloyd Webber’s other smash “The Phantom of the Opera.” Even though it closed in 2000, “Cats” continues to be synonymous with song-and-dance in our collective consciousness. But I promise you, haters: Not all musicals are like this. Thank the weird supernatural cat god for that.
Because Boston hasn’t seen it enough, “Cats” is once again hissing and slinking its way through town. This latest touring iteration features a top-notch cast that delivers on all the things “Cats” zealots love. But for something so long, intricate and popular, it’s got about as much matter and substance as a hairball.
Conceived by Lloyd Webber, Trevor Nunn and Gillian Lynne, “Cats” draws its inspiration from T.S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.” Eliot wrote the poems for his godchildren; he never would’ve guessed they’d be co-opted into a 1980s synth-pop musical. The future is a funny place.
The plot, such as it is, is about a bunch of felines who call themselves Jellicles and are proud of it. They gather in a trash-strewn alley circa midnight for the “Jellicle Ball,” which has something to do with reincarnation, or whatever. Mostly, it just seems to exist so the cats can sing about how awesome it is to be a cat and how there are different types of cats. And pretty much just to slink around and say the word “cat” a lot.
“Cats” (look, there it is again) is a true ensemble piece, demanding that most every performer onstage can both sing and dance with the best of them. There are acrobatic dances such as “Mr. Mistoffelees,” huge group numbers like “Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats” and weepy ballads, most notably the iconic “Memory.”
Pretty much everyone in the cast is up to the task, channeling their feline sides and performing feats both vocal and balletic. Standout performers include the honey-voiced Tug Watson as Munkustrap, the acrobatic Chris Mackenthun as Mistoffelees and the opera-chopped Nathan Morgan as Gus the Theatre Cat (yes, there’s a cat who is specifically of the theater).
It’s too bad that most of the songs have no musical merit whatsoever, repeating simple phrases and lifted Eliot lines until you feel as if your brain is about to melt out of your ears. Nothing onstage happens for a reason. However virtuoso the performances, the fact that the show has almost no structure or drive makes it doomed to fall flat.
A spectacle? Yes. A pop touchstone? Yes. Bearable? No. But then, I’ve always been a dog person.
“CATS” at the Colonial Theatre, Tuesday night. Through April 18.