Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

January 30, 2019

REVIEW: The Bushnell, Cats

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
through February 3, 2019
by R.E. Smith

Photo by Matthew Murphy
Like the eternal debate between “cat lovers” and “dog people,” so too does the legendary musical “Cats” tend to split theatergoers into opposing camps. With roots in early 1980 and visions of copious leg warmers, some remember the show only as a punch line, but for others it is the infectious songs, and playful idea of cats attending a ball, that make for a warmer “memory” (Yes, the reviewer just went there!)

Based on the poems of TS Eliot, the “book” is really a series of sung-through vignettes and character studies about various felines who, it seems, are just like us. The songs are unmistakably Andrew Lloyd Webber: “Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats” has a bouncy melody that swiftly propels us into the junkyard-gathering place of our various protagonists. “The Magical Mister Mistoffelees,” has distinct echoes of “Joseph’s Dreamcoat. . .” right down to a multi-colored LED jacket. But the one song everyone is here for is “Memory.” Sung by the “faded glamour cat,” Grizabella, here poignantly embodied by Keri Rene Fuller, it does not disappoint and Fuller’s passionate delivery inspired many people to leap to their feet.

The costumes have been tweaked a bit, and newer stagecraft technology has been employed to make things a little sleeker and shinier, but the biggest production change was to hire “Hamilton” choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler to update the original choreography. His influence seems to be in the speed of the movements and the more modern athletic aesthetic touches. It is here, in the dancing, that Cats really stands out. One would be hard-pressed to find a show with more company-heavy numbers, each one requiring, at almost all times, intense precision and the undisputed talent of the 22 performers. Some might just come for the songs, but you'll leave remembering the dances, too.

Caitlin Bond, as the white kitten Victoria, may not have her own song or story, but her character is a strong presence throughout. With her impressive ballet background, Bond is a featured in many of the numbers, embodying the more physics-defying attributes of a young cat. Tony d’Alelio and Rose Iannaccone’s duet dance number “”Mungojerrie and Rumplelteazer” was a pure physical delight. McGee Maddox’s “The Rum Tum Tugger”, was an audience pleasing glam-rock number and “The Old Gumbie Cat”, led by Emily Jeanne Phillips, proved that cats and mice AND cockroaches can tap dance.

Billed as “not your grandparents' Cats,” this tour boasts the involvement of almost all the original Broadway production staff, but gives it just enough new polish to make the show worth revisiting, or simply seeing again.