The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

CATS Has Lived Too Many Lives

By Suzy Evans in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 16, 2009 8:20PM

2009_10_Cats.jpg Despite what you may think, we don’t set out to be cruel. But, in the case of Cats, showing this weekend at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, rather than pointlessly ridiculing spandex clad actors who are clearly happy to have a job, we thought we would put this famously bad musical in perspective.

Cats opened on Broadway in 1982, a time when drugs and Lycra were all the rage. These grunge rock alley cats spoke to the big-haired masses, and the show paved the way for other (much better) British imports such as Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables. Based on T.S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book Of Practical Cats,” the show amalgamates a bunch of song and dance numbers that have no connecting thread aside from Eliot’s book, which most audiences don’t recognize. And ironically, "Memory," arguably the musical's most famous song, has lyrics by director Trevor Nunn, not Eliot.

The show ran for 18 years on Broadway, but these cats exceeded their nine lives long ago. Before the production began at the Cadillac, the theater staff warned about the various special effects in the show - strobe lights, smoke, haze. What they didn’t say was all three would occur simultaneously a soon as the orchestra started playing Andrew Lloyd Weber’s irritating score. Suddenly cats (or really flexible actors, faces caked in make-up, dressed in fur-covered body suits) appear throughout the aisles. We don’t mind breaking the fourth wall, but when a human is trying to be your furry friend, it gets ridiculous.

This production epitomizes a national tour, which isn’t surprising considering it’s the longest continuously touring show in U.S. history. Everyone in the cast can sing and dance, but there’s no pizzazz. (Even with all the blinding lights and smoke.) The actors don’t take full advantage of the wealth of campy material presented to them. We were especially disappointed in "Memory," a song we admit we kind of like. Not because Anastasia Lange didn’t sound like Betty Buckley, but because she sang it like the notes were plucked on ukulele, not slurred together on a violin.

We know it’s difficult to make money on new art and theater in this economy, and producers are really just looking for profitable shows. But is Cats really that production today? Yes, it’s generated the most jobs on Broadway ever. But when people are pinching their pennies do they really want to see Cats? Maybe. But should they? No. Watch Susan Boyle singing "Memory" on YouTube, don some spandex of your own and rent a strobe light. You’ll have just as much fun.

Cats runs through Sunday, October 18 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre