‘Cats’ Reaches Its Last Life

Courtesy of Segerstrom Center for the Arts

The production I am referring to is Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cats,” based on a collection of poems by T.S. Eliot that tell the story of a tribe of London sewer cats who are going to select one of their own tribesmen to leave this world and ascend to an outer realm. The original 1981 production was a smash hit in London, and it eventually became the second longest show to run on Broadway.

An impressive resume, “Cats” is a legendary musical that is a critical component of a theater lover’s list of shows. With such high expectations in addition to a good knowledge of Webber’s music (such as the overplayed song “Memory,” which non-thespians are sure to have heard), I expected a night of sheer theatrical bliss. However, much to my dismay, “Cats” was one of the worst shows I had the misfortune to see this year at the Segerstrom Center of the Arts in Costa Mesa.

The problem with “Cats” is the show itself. It is very plausible how a musical of people dressed as felines running up and down the stage while belting out catchy Broadway tunes was seen as novel during the 1980s. However, as theater, as well as the audience’s expectations, have evolved during the past 30 years, it is very difficult to reproduce a show that cannot connect with its viewers in the same way.

Although the show is supposed to be a light and amusing musical with a simple plot, I had a very difficult time figuring out what was actually happening. There were a lot of words I had no prior knowledge of and in fact had to look up later, like the word “Jellicle,” which had a whole song dedicated to it but was never in fact explained until I learned from the trusty Internet that it was the name of the cats’ tribe.

Another problem was the length of the show. Due to the fact that there is no real plot besides the Jellicle’s selection, I instead spent two and a half hours viewing a musical vignette of cats discussing their life achievements. It was much too long for a production, and I think it should have been shortened considerably.

On the other hand, there are a few high points to this production, the first being the cast. For such a drab musical, everyone who performed was extremely talented. Since there are no breaks between the songs, the actors are continually dancing and singing; however, this posed no problem to the cast because of their exceptional abilities, especially in regards to dancing. If it had not been for the cast’s enthusiasm and quality, I do not think I could have made it through the second act.

The best performer in the show was Melissa Grohowski, who played Grizabella, a glamorous cat who was once very beautiful, but got caught up in the darkness of reality. The only reason I could discern her from all the other cats was because she sang “Memory,” a classic musical theater ballad that is also widely acknowledged in mainstream culture. It is always unfortunate to hear well-known pieces sung poorly, but her voice had the right combination of musical theater and melodic intonation. She was another reason I did not leave at the intermission: I wanted to hear her sing the reprise of Webber’s haunting melody another time.

“Cats” was not a good experience, especially for an avid theatergoer like me. Luckily, I bought my ticket Student Rush (only $20 with a valid student I.D.), so I was not too poor after, but considering the amount of shows the Segerstrom is showing this season, I highly recommend taking advantage of their “Access for All” Program, in which the Center hopes to extend its community participation through selling an exclusive amount of tickets for only $10 apiece. More information can be found on their website.

In conclusion, Asparagus the cat was right: the theater is not was it used to be, for the productions now do not connect with their audiences as they did before. It is just sad I found this out the hard way.

Rating: 2 out of 5