'Cats' revival tour travels to Buffalo

Classic Broadway musical draws in fans from miles away

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Gina Smith took a bus from Oil City, Pennsylvania to see “Cats” on opening night at Shea’s Theater. She had been waiting to see the show for 32 years.

“When they announced the show in Buffalo, I told my husband there was no way I was missing it. He jumped up and said he was going too. This was our Christmas gift.”

Theater fans traveled in droves to the Buffalo area to witness the classic production Tuesday night. The production runs from Feb. 5-10 as a part of the M&T Bank Broadway series. Shea’s Theatre is also offering a student discount on tickets. 

“Cats” tells the story of the Jellicle Cats, a superior tribe of cats and their annual celebration of “the Jellicle choice.” The leader of the cats must choose who may ascend into the sky and be reborn. The original production premiered on Broadway in 1982 and took a hiatus from 2000-16.

The elaborate musical offers incredible vocals and magnificent feats of athleticism. Composed by the celebrated Andrew Lloyd Webber, “Cats” is based on T.S. Eliot’s poetry. The poetry explores the psychology and sociology of cats, coinciding with the musical’s loose narrative structure. 

While the show was profound, it was rich with humor and elaborate musical numbers. Many of the songs explore the various personalities of the different cats. These range from humorous escapades to powerful declarations of despair. The show consists of different monologues from characters, rather than a traditional storyline. 

The production featured familiar songs like “Memory” and “Mr. Mistoffelees.” The musical numbers were primarily ensemble performances, but each piece demonstrated the incredible vocal capabilities of the entire cast. Each cast member had the opportunity to flaunt their abilities with a complete lack of any obvious weak links. 

Keri RenéFuller, who played Grizabella, stole the show with her rendition of “Memory.” She gave a riveting, emotional performance and completely commanded the room. The scene contrasted the elaborate, comical numbers and choreography with raw emotion and despair.  

The cast was also athletically gifted. Since every character in the show is a cat, every actor must have cat-like agility. The performers made themselves present throughout the theater, while they ran through the aisles and occasionally interacted with the audience. 

Each musical number featured astonishing choreography that showcased the different abilities of the cast. “The Old Gumbie Cat” highlighted tap dancing, while “Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer” encompassed complex acrobatic abilities. Ballet and contemporary styles were scattered throughout the entire production. Cast members belted out their songs and performed  elaborate dances without showing fatigue.

The show was visually exceptional, but the storyline was hard to follow without context. The show features unfamiliar language that appears in T.S. Eliot’s poetry, which is never explained throughout the production. The term “Jellicle” has an entire musical number shaped around it, and all of the cats’ complicated names appear in the poetry. 

But the storyline did not come across as a traditional narrative, which allowed it to be open to interpretation and made the content easy to enjoy without the entire context. The underlying plot eventually became more transparent during the second act. 

The Shea’s audience laughed and cried throughout the performance and the cast received a standing ovation after the final number. The revival tour is a must-see for the Buffalo theater community. 

 

Samantha Vargas is the asst. arts editor and can be reached at samantha.vargas@ubspectrum.com and on Twitter @SamVargasArts