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Theater review: Outdated ‘Cats’ production is better fit for litter box than stage

The national tour cast of “Cats” perform on a blue-hued illuminated stage. Based on T.S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats,” the musical will perform at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre through Oct. 16. (Courtesy of Matthew Murphy)

“Cats”

Oct. 4-16 

The Hollywood Pantages Theatre

$39-149

By Talia Sajor

Oct. 9, 2022 6:37 p.m.

This post was updated Oct. 12 at 3:21 p.m.

The Jellicle cats have lived nine lives too many.

Based on T.S. Eliot’s poetry collection, “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats,” the feline gang of “Cats” will take refuge at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre through Oct. 16. Composed by musical theater titan Andrew Lloyd Webber, “Cats” presents as an outdated hot mess of a classic, filled with overly flashy visuals and an incomprehensible storyline.

[Related: Theater Review: ‘Jagged Little Pill’ tackles powerful themes while maintaining comedic timing]

The production successfully intrigued audiences about the tribe’s abode with the Jellicles living in a vivacious junkyard. Between realistic pieces of thrown-out trash and a radiant moon, the set was incredibly detailed, but the performance took place in a single location, lacking any variability in creating scenic excitement.

While the set design stood out as a vibrant spectacle, the costuming did quite the opposite. With skin-tight body suits, flailing belted tails and tasteless makeup, the aesthetic of the cats proved why a musical about humans acting as animals should be left to Disney’s “The Lion King.” The most frightening character of all was Old Deuteronomy, a senior Jellicle. His mangy suit of gray fur felt less like an aging feline and more like a terrifying live-action display of Cousin Itt from “The Addams Family.”

As the show progressed, the cast demonstrated its agility and cohesiveness through dazzling aerial flips and other displays of flexibility. Yet while their movements were strongly executed, oddly resembling that of real cats, the narrative and musical aspects fell incredibly short. The script lacked any dialogue and instead transitioned from song to song, forbidding audiences to take in anything diegetic that was happening on stage. Furthermore, the songs themselves focused on specific members of the tribe, which only ended with a confusing and practically nonexistent story of the community’s hazy efforts to justify their worthiness to reach cat heaven.

With the stage show originally opening in 1981, the performance carried the same tell-tale signs of the decade through its synth-driven score and multicolored LED lights. In addition to the already tacky costumes, the entire performance felt like a 2 1/2-hour cheese fest that vomited the worst elements of the ’80s and was without any substance to keep modern-day audiences engaged.

Perhaps the only palatable moments of the entire show were scenes centered on Grizabella, an elderly cat cast aside by the other felines of the tribe. Played by the all-around talented Tayler Harris, Grizabella’s signature solo, “Memory,” was the show’s only clear plot point as she reminisced about her days as a youthful, jubilant Jellicle. Harris’ dulcet tone and smooth vibrato in her belt gracefully accompanied the standout number and helped slow down the constantly uncontrolled pace for the remainder of the show. But while “Memory” had the potential to be the only emotionally resonant piece within the production, the context in which it was sung – with a group of humans prancing around the stage as life-sized cats – killed any possible sentiment and meaning.

[Related: Theater review: ‘Someone Else’s House’ immerses audience in eerie virtual experience at home]

Despite its renowned fame, “Cats” proves it peaked when it was first created. In the world of theater where exuberant, fresh and original stories are emerging, the classics can now afford to be shelved and give way to a new generation of playwrights and composers without any nonsensical and over-the-top productions.

And after over 40 years, it is finally time to let the memory of these cats fade away.

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Talia Sajor | Arts editor
Sajor is the 2023-2024 Arts editor. She previously served as the 2022-2023 Theater | film | television editor and a Photo, Opinion and PRIME contributor. She is also a third-year communication student from Oxnard, California.
Sajor is the 2023-2024 Arts editor. She previously served as the 2022-2023 Theater | film | television editor and a Photo, Opinion and PRIME contributor. She is also a third-year communication student from Oxnard, California.
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