This post contains affiliate links and our team will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on the links.
Attention all Jellicle Cats! Its time once again for the Jellicle Ball, as CATS has made its way back to the Hollywood Pantages until October 16 for a run you are not going to want to miss.
Based on T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, CATS is about an annual event among a group of street cats affectionately known as the “Jellicle Cats” called the Jellicle Ball. This event allows the elder cat, Old Deuteronomy, to select just one Jellicle Cat to leave this life and move on to the next of their nine lives. During this event, the Cats are dancing, singing, telling stories, and trying to highlight themselves as most deserving to be selected.
The first thing I noticed was honestly how talented this entire cast is. The opening number “Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats” really highlighted the dance and acrobatic skills of the cast and got the audience excited for what was to come. I was most moved by the tone set in “The Naming of Cats” which was the entire T.S. Eliot poem recited in chorus in a whisper tone.
The blocking and lighting for this number was ominous and intriguing, which was appropriate because the goal was to help the audience better understand what a Jellicle Cat is. From here, we are all invited to the Jellicle Ball and we begin to learn the wild names and personalities of the Jellicle Cats beginning with a story about Jennyanydots (Michelle E. Carter), which breaks into a full tap number.
Next, we meet Rum-Tum-Tugger (Hank Santos) who was the crowd favorite. His rock anthem was met with applause and screams, as he has a great voice and ability to sing while moving quickly about the stage. Mungojerrie (Brian Craig Nelson) and Rumpleteazer (Taryn Smithson) were a delight with their comedic timing and acrobatics. We then meet the standout of the show, Tayler Harris as Grizabella, an old and dirty cat who was a glamor cat and beautiful in her prime.
Now, the other Jellicle Cats have ostracized Grizabella and they run away from her when she arrives on the outskirts of the Jellicle Ball. Her haunting song, “Memory” pulls the audience’s heartstrings as she lingers near the ball wishing the Jellicles would accept her back into society. Harris’ performance was phenomenal and really sealed the show for me.
The second act was delightful, with an increased use of practical sets. In “Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat”, the cats create a train engine out of garbage and can lids that is visually stunning. Standouts for me in Act II were everything about Gus the Theater Cat (John Anker Bow), The vocal stylings of Bombalurina (Erica Lee Cianciulli) and Mistoffelees (Ibn Snell), The beautiful dancing of Victoria (Yuka Notsuka) and of course the beauty of the final rendition of “Memory” by Grizabella (Tayler Harris) featuring Sillabub (Sam Bello). If you have not seen the show, stop reading now, as I have a spoiler coming (but CATS debuted in 1981, so perhaps its okay for spoilers now).
“Memory” is the song everyone typically thinks of when they think of CATS, but it isn’t until you see the Act II performance that you really understand the gravity of the song and the performance of it. Grizabella, ostracized from the Jellicles, makes one last attempt to be heard as a cat deserving of being part of the Jellicle Ball. She is weak and at one-point collapses during her song, prompting Old Deuteronomy to reach out toward her instinctively as Sillabub helps her to complete her song.
Victoria eventually makes the first move to touch Grizabella, ultimately signaling the welcome back into the Jellicle Cats. Her plight resonates with Old Deuteronomy who ultimately decides to select Grizabella to move on to the Heaviside layer and on to another of her lives. This scene was moving both from the vocals, but also the use of practical sets to raise Old Deuteronomy and Grizabella up into the sky.
The orchestra was fantastic, with Music Director/Conductor Jonathan Gorst at the helm. The show has many different musical stylings that were created with a small off-stage orchestra. The lighting was a bit confusing at times, with some lights flashing at inappropriate times.
Overall, the show was fantastic! I highly recommend coming out to see CATS, whether its your first time or—like our hostess at a nearby restaurant—your 7th time, you are sure to enjoy this performance. You will be grateful that you accepted your invitation to the Jellicle Ball!