Last night was the first time I had ever seen the Broadway Musical Cats and I was overwhelmed with the artistry, music, costumes and dance of the production playing through Sunday at Kansas City’s Music Hall.
Seriously, this is a show that EVERYONE and ANYONE must see in order to attain at least a cursory knowledge of the fine arts in popular culture around the world today. Despite the fact that I had never seen the musical; the archetypes already seemed familiar and the triumphant score of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s masterwork rang true and spoke to my senses of sight and sound.
CATS is also the gayest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.
Not just gay but "Broadway Musical Gay." That’s not a pejorative definition directed toward homosexuals but just a simple classification of the sissified content that makes me wonder if those prancing, swishy cats on stage ever worry about getting tested for feline AIDS.
Still, the entertainment was breathtaking and made it easy to understand how this show has captivated audiences around the world for almost three decades. Winning both the Tony Award for Best Musical and The Laurence Olivier Award, honors and audiences for this classic show abound. The musical opened in London in 1981 and then on Broadway in 1982 racking up nearly two decades on stage in both cities. The National Tour version currently playing in Kansas City is a non-equity (i.e. non-union) show with only five musicians but nobody seemed to mind the skimping during these harsh times. And to be honest, it didn’t take away from the experience.
Seeing it for the first time as the kickoff for the Music Hall season, what intrigued me about the show is that it seems to be filled with cultural themes from a different era.
The musical isn’t just mere entertainment but a showcase of singing and dancing history.
To begin with, the musical was originally written as intricate allusion to Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot. But even more significantly was the sensibility displayed by the work that is short on plot but indulges in a rich tapestry of postmodern references from a wide array of musical disciplines.
CATS isn’t so much a musical as it as a pastiche of musical performance from Western culture.
Written at a time when Deconstruction, Critical Theory and Cultural Studies were quickly becoming the dominant disciplines in Universities throughout the Western World – CATS is a testament to the self-referential and self-aware creative expression that defined these last years of The American Century.
Nowadays the Internet kids call it META. Put simply, it’s not a musical; it’s a musical about musicals using the most fanciful of subject matter.
Nonetheless, simply on the surface of it there is a lot to enjoy.
Expertly performed by Matthew Taylor, Rum Tum Tugger’s Elvis, Rock Star, Iconic number was my personal favorite. And the Mr. Mistoffelees theme demonstrated an impressive level of physicality and nuance by Chaz Wolcott. Of course, Kathryn Holtkamp sent chills up the spine of everyone in the crowd when she unleashed her voice in the climactic stanza of “Memory” —The musical standard and signature song of CATS.
Finally, this review wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t at least acknowledge all of the hot pussy on stage.
The women in these cat suits are a far contrast from the chunky housecats I’ve seen around this town. Jordan Dunlap played the White Cat Victoria and while her performance was wholesome and pure I couldn’t take my eyes off of her or stop thinking that I wanted her to jump on my lap so I could pet her. Strangely enough, she has a Twitter account where she’s all bright eyed and bushytailed regarding her excitement about the show.
Watching CATS was an experience that I’ll never forget and certainly one of the highlights of this year’s Kansas City theatrical season.
And while I wanted to include more bad puns in this review, I’ll simply note that the show has four more performances scheduled this weekend. Folks who want to experience this musical classic should pick up tickets right meow.