By Shari Goldstein Stern
Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s masterpiece, “CATS,” has audiences purring with delight at Dallas Summer Musicals (DSM) through Nov. 17. Patrons are roaring about this North America Tour production, based on T.S. Eliot’s poetry. Those who have seen the show before, including London and Broadway productions, are praising it as the best production of the show they’ve experienced.
“CATS” held the record for Broadway’s longest running show until it was upstaged by another of Lloyd Webber’s masterpieces, “Phantom of the Opera.” “CATS” has been produced in at least 30 countries and in 15 languages. It won seven Tony Awards including Best Musical.
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s incredible score resonates like his cache of accomplishments, including “Phantom of the Opera” and “Sunset Boulevard.” Lyrics are credited to Trevor Nunn and to T.S. Eliot, one of the most popular 20th century poets and playwrights.
In 1939, Nobel Prize for literature and Order of Merit recipient, Eliot penned “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats,” a compilation of his poems, with “Old Possum” being his assumed name. He had a passion for cats. His poetry characters include the names portrayed by cast members in the musical production of “CATS.” A few of those are Jellicles, Rum Tum Tugger, Mr. Mistoffelees, Old Deuteronomy, Gus: The Theatre Cat and Macavity. “CATS” tells the story of a magical night when an eclectic tribe of cats gathers for its annual Jellical Ball to rejoice and decide which cat will be reborn.
With the talented ensemble cast of almost 30 cats, it’s hard to single out any one performer. What is not difficult is recognizing the vocal treatment of the haunting “Memory,” sung exquisitely by Keri Rene Fuller as Grizabella. “Memory” is one of the most iconic songs ever written for a musical, and you may have to elbow the patron in the next seat to stop singing the well-known melody and lyrics.
Caitlin Bond as the snow-white Victoria is in constant, graceful motion, from glorious dance to smooth acrobatics. Her gift of dance has graced the Atlantic City Ballet, Ballet West Academy, and Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. She appeared in Season 14 of “So You Think You Can Dance.” It’s hard to take your eyes off her.
Following the show, Bond said, “After every performance I’m famished and can eat everything in sight.” It’s no wonder with the degree of physicality she exudes in two hours. The triple-threat had heard about DSM’s extreme hospitality, so she couldn’t wait to get to the opening night cast party.
Natasha Katz’ lighting is fresh to this production and often surprisingly beautiful. Scenic and costume designer John Napier faces an almost insurmountable challenge in setting the stage for the story. The junkyard set is interesting and realistic. The costumes are breathtaking and must be a career highlight for Napier.
Every year, El Centro College Fashion Design internship students have an opportunity to create a project under the mentorship of a professional designer. This year’s project was to create garments inspired by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “CATS.” They prepared by researching photos and watching snippets of the “CATS” musical on “YouTube,” said Emmanuel Tobias, fashion design faculty. “I was thrilled to see their excitement level rise when they found out that the ‘CATS’ movie will be in theatres this December.”
The students’ creations are on display in the Music Hall lobby during the run of the show.
Those new to “CATS” will enjoy seeing the cast up close and personal as they stalk through the aisles, checking out the patrons with that wide-eyed stare that only a professional cat can do.
“CATS” runs through Nov. 17 by DSM at the Music Hall at Fair Park, 909 First St. in Dallas. For information, call 214-631-2787.