Cats the Musical

A Review

Katelyn Folmer, Executive Editor

With a new movie trailer promoting the winter production of Cats, many are questioning the sanity of Hollywood. Why would the director of the hit musical and movie, Les Miserables, do something as simple as film people acting like Cats? The movie will star James Corden, Rebel Wilson, Taylor Swift, Jason Derulo, Jennifer Hudson, and more. A wide array of stars, all contributing to this project, sounds like a good idea. However, many people are angry that a play that many consider idiotic is becoming a movie that may stand the test of time.

So, will it be that bad? Cats, a musical inspired by Old Possum’s Poems of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot, is just that…a musical dedicated to Cats. Professional actors stand on the stage in leotard/Spanx-like catsuits and imitate…CATS.

I saw the stage production of Cats at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., two Fridays ago. Before seeing it, I must admit that I had neutral feelings towards it. I did not expect a fabulous musical in the world, but I understood that it was regarded as a classic musical, so I attended with an open mind. First, I want to make clear that this musical is unlike any you have probably seen. There is no dominant storyline. This story is based on a collection of poems. This is a significant reason why many people turn away from the show. However, the talent of the performers made up for this absence of plot on stage. The plot is not the focus, rather the individual characterization of each cat. By the end of the show, the average audience member knows something about every one of the Cats on stage because a new song introduces almost everyone. The storyline is written so that the introduction of every song brings a new cat to the scene and provides a progression of the story.

This show has very intricate choreography: from substantial tap solos to aerials and cartwheels, ballet-style positions, and spins and leg splits. The songs that are performed range from chants, with disco-like beats, to ballads in 6/8 time. The complexity of both the music and choreography allows the audience to assess the show on something more than its excitement factor. The actor’s make-up was phenomenal; the actors did not look like humans in catsuits. Talented make-up artists took every opportunity to transform them. I thought that the Kennedy Center cast well executed this and made the crazy catsuits an amplifier of the show rather than a deterrent.

However, the first act of the musical was still very strange to me. Cats were singing about things that perplexed me, Cats were dancing in the aisles, and the music was unique compared to traditional musicals. During intermission, I was looking forward to leaving but also looking up the plot summary online. There was little plot other than the Cats all want to go to a heavenly place, and they only meet together once a year, so this occasion was celebratory. Yep, that is the story of this musical. Nevertheless, what this show made me realize about theatre, in general, is that the plot and storyline are not the only things that make an excellent musical. There are plenty of other areas in which the actors highlight their talent, and sometimes a complex storyline can be distracting.

Interestingly, one song that struck me was called “The Rum Tug Tugger,” it has a cat-chy tune, and the characterization was fantastic. The Rum Tug Tugger is a sassy cat played by a man wearing tight leggings with a crazy red and orange mane. Rum Tug Tugger has a crazy personality, and it was a very entertaining song. If this review does not prompt you to see the show, at least listen to the Rum Tug Tugger song, it is hilarious. The second act was more entertaining to me: more intriguing Cats and fun dances. I enjoyed it more after I had a clearer understanding of the storyline. Although it was unlike any other musical I have seen before, I can confidently say I do not regret devoting my time. Watching it again would be enjoyable.

So maybe you are like me, if you know more about this show, it might not seem so strange. Cats is not “Into the Woods” or “Cinderella,” but it has theatrical merit and quality to it. In conclusion, this movie should not be dreaded because it is an entertaining way to see what kinds of talents our popular performers have. Yes, it is a weird premise for a production, but not worthless. This musical is technically demanding, and we should give the performers credit for the amount of work they put into this project to entertain us.