The Company of the 2021-2022 national tour of CATS. Photo by Matthew Murphy, Murphymade.
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats has been a favorite of theatergoers since it first premiered in 1981. Its latest iteration, presented by Troika Entertainment, directed by Trevor Nunn, and onstage now at the Durham Performing Arts Center, features the same great story, based on T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. However, it also features brand new (and spectacular!) direction and choreography. Thus, even long-time lovers of this show will find something new to celebrate here.
From the start, it’s clear that this production of Cats differs from the norm in wonderful ways. There’s a chanting, melodic quality that hearkens back to the script’s poetic roots. Pair that with Andy Blankenbuehler’s ethereal choreography and John Napier’s other-worldly scenic and costume design, and it’s impossible not to become immersed in this magical feline setting.
As the beloved Jellicle cats begin their ball, their distinct personalities are brought to life through their elaborate costumes, narrative songs, and incredible dances. Every moment is visual and auditory perfection. Even better, it all plays out against a starry set with the ever-present moon looming in the background as a reminder of the waxing and waning of life.
And, while there are some sad and somber undertones here, there’s also plenty of whimsy and wonder. There are dazzling colored lights, cool sound effects, and, perhaps most impressive of all, choreography that leaps off the stage and takes on a life of its own. The dances move effortlessly from jumping and frenzied to slow and silky, and a variety of dance styles are featured. Some dances showcase the complexity and beauty of synchronicity, while others celebrate pure talent and technique, In particular, Ibn Snell wows viewers with his incredible performance during the “Magical Mister Mistoffelees” number.
Speaking of “wowing,” Tayler Harris’ “Grizabella” has a voice that will take your breath away. She performs “Memory” with such raw emotion and intensity that it becomes one of the most unforgettable and beautiful moments in the entire show. And, with a production this spectacular, that’s saying a lot.
John Anker Bow also elicits sympathy as “Gus,” an older cat with health issues, without forgetting to add in a healthy dose of humor. Really, though, every cat has its day and its moment in the spotlight, and every actor does their cat proud. Additionally, diverse ages, races, and body types are represented, which makes the production all the more enjoyable. In fact, there’s a “cat” for everyone to relate to, and at its heart, that’s what Cats is all about. It’s a celebration of life, of diverse experiences, of acceptance, and, despite the feline characters, of humanity and what it can be.
If you want to get caught up in beauty, experience the power of movement and music, and maybe do a little reflecting on this journey we’re all on, this version of Cats is for you. Whether you’ve seen the show once, a hundred times, or never before, don’t miss this one!
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