Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Review: ‘Cats’ at The Kennedy Center Opera House

I can hear it already: Lenny you're a visual art scribe, not a musical theatre critic! Don't be a Shmendrik!

Deal with it, because I went to see "Cats" at the Kennedy Center, and since this is my third viewing of this musical (I saw it in London decades ago, and in New York also decades ago), I feel like I have a different perspective on discussing this Andrew Lloyd Webber success story from your usual theater critic who always seems to start a discussion on the subject by talking about " Webber’s indefatigable anthropomorphic felines" or "the musical itself seems to be immortal."

“Cats” made its debut at the Kennedy Center Opera House last week and the family and I scored great seats up front for $59 - a lot less than I paid in London and NYC all those years ago. 

My son posing at the Kennedy Center "Cats" Background
The stage felines run through October 6, in what seems to me (in comparison to the earlier versions) to be a lot flashier and more athletic than ever in this Kennedy Center version of the 2016 Broadway revival of the musical.

The cast of this "Cats" version are not only talented singer,s but also powerful athletes and spectacular dancers, be it ballet, tap dancing, or running up and down the aisles of the KC Opera House.

At a group art show, I'd pick a Best of Show - for this "Cats" assembly of talent let me discuss who stood out to me.

One of my fave things to do when I go to the theatre, opera, musical, etc. is to pick a character who's not the focus of whatever is going on at the time and
Mariah Reives
follow him or her and see how much into the character they are when they're in the background somewhere.  Mariah Reives, who plays "Cassandra" in the production was perfect for the part.  Her sleek, almost impossible to believe cat-like figure is perfect for the sleek cat persona that she portrays; even when she's slinking away on all fours around the stage, it's a spectacle of sensuality that proves to me that this lady has some felis DNA in her family tree!

"Hey Dad", whispered my son at about minute twenty of the musical, "Are they gonna sing the whole time? Does anybody talk?"

They sing all the time, and soon Anderson was as mesmerized and hypnotized by the music, the dancing, the high-kicking, and the almost non-existent story-line as the rest of us.

When the singing itself brought up that "the Naming of Cats is a difficult matter, It isn't just one of your holiday games; You may think at first I'm as mad as a hatter - When I tell you, a cat must have three different names..." he noted that "they ripped that off T.S. Eliot..." which made my jaw drop that a 10-year-old would recognize the poem (thank you to all his teachers, past and present at SFS).
Charlotte O'Dowd
Note to self: Discuss with him that Andrew Lloyd Webber's thin storyline is indeed based on Eliot's Cats poems.

Charlotte O'Dowd is one of the swings - and she also stands out for powerful stage athletism and superb character maintenance when in the background and this talented lady can jump and kick! No matter who was singing or doing pirouttes on center stage, she was always on the prowl in full character.

Alexa Racioppi and Emma Hearn also show their dancing and jazzy skills and their sinewy, strong lithe bodies are perfect for Demeter and Bombalurina, and the dancing skills associated with those parts.

Let's get to the singing.

Everybody knows the powerful and epic "Memory" and Keri Rene Fuller's revolutionary rendition of the song got her a well-deserved standing ovation, including from a very impressed 10-year-old sitting next to me, as Anderson was totally shaken by the power of Fuller's voice.

And yet - "Cats" (in my view) is more than just singing (and yes Anderson, it's all singing): it is about the projection of feline style, power... and in this version, a souped-up display of lights, effects, audience participation, and even a bit of pyrotechnics.

This new version is easily better than its ancestors - a lot has to do with technology, but a lot more has to do with the upgraded and breath taking spectacle of dance and movement. It is well-worth a visit, even if you've seen it before!