Presented in over 20 countries and translated into 10 different languages, Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s dramatic spectacle ‘Cats’ opened at the Plummer Auditorium of the Fullerton Civic Light Opera on Feb. 17.
The musical is performed by talented actors and actresses including Broadway and National Tour star Mary Gutzi as Grizabella, the cat whose diminished dazzle and fame results in her being ostracized by her fellow cats.
‘Cats’ was written by Webber in 1981 and is based on poems from T.S. Eliot’s ‘Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.’ The musical set a record as the longest-running production in both London and New York with 8,949 and 7,485 performances, respectively. ‘Cats’ closed on Broadway Sept. 20, 2000, just one month shy of 19 years. Its record as the longest-running production was just recently surpassed in January 2006 by ‘Phantom of the Opera.’
While ‘Cats’ toured nationally during its Broadway run, the FCLO is the first regional theater to produce the musical in the greater Los Angeles area.
The entire musical takes place in a junkyard that is scaled to fit the proportions of the feline actors and actresses. Once a year the feline tribe known as Jellicle gathers at the junkyard for its Jellicle Ball, in which a cat is chosen to be reborn to a new life. The decision as to which cat will be given this privilege is made by Old Deuteronomy, the Jellicle patriarch. Every Jellicle cat tries to impress Old Deuteronomy with song and dance. However, before a cat can be chosen, Old Deuteronomy is abducted.
‘Cats’ is often criticized for its lack of plot. For those anticipating interwoven relationships among the characters and various levels of subplots, ‘Cats’ may be a slight disappointment. For a first-time viewer with no prior knowledge of the musical, it may seem as if cats are prancing across the stage, jumping off props and singing incomprehensible tunes. There is no spoken dialogue, making it an endeavor to understand anything that is happening on stage. Thankfully, though, a tabby cat named Munkustrap serves as an articulate, singing narrator to more easily navigate audiences through the story.
However, what makes ‘Cats’ so loved by audiences is its family appeal that traditional, more complex musicals lack. Because of its simple plot, vivid music and colorful costumes, ‘Cats’ is an ideal first musical for younger audiences.
The setting of ‘Cats’ never changes. While there are flashbacks in which cats reminisce on their past, all the main scenery and props remain onstage from the opening to the closing of the play. In addition, ‘Cats’ is renowned for its intricate feline costumes, each one unique. The costumes come in every cat color imaginable, and are made with everything from tight-fitted cloths to large coats of fur. Even the faces are carefully painted to the color and shade of specific species of cats.
Certainly, the most compelling scene in the musical is when Gutzi enchants the audience with the show’s most popular and well-known song, ‘Memory.’ Gutzi’s solo delicately tugs at the ethos of every listener. As she yearns for a new life, her voice crescendos with every nostalgic recollection of Grizabella’s glorious past. ‘Memory’ proves to be one of Lloyd-Webber’s signature songs.
FCLO’s Plummer Auditorium is conveniently located in Orange County adjacent to Cal State Fullerton. What makes the Plummer Auditorium so charming is its proximity to Old Town Fullerton on Harbor Boulevard. The street is lined with a plethora of restaurants, boutiques, cobblestone pavements and lighted trees, making it ideal for an evening on the town followed by a theatrical performance.
For more information on the FCLO Plummer Auditorium, shows and ticket information, visit their Web site at http://www.fclo.com.