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CATS at Fox Theater review

The Fox welcomed the holiday season with one of Broadway’s old favorites, “Cats,” Andrew Lloyd Webber’s hit adaptation of T.S. Eliot’s wonderfully charming and comic “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.” You do not need to have read book but doing so makes the show even better, particularly if you have the version with Edward Gorey’s delightful, slightly Gothic illustrations.

Every cat lover should experience this show but you don’t have to like felines to enjoy this joyful production. Nearly everyone has heard the show’s hit songs – particularly the vocally showy “Memory” – but “Cats” as just as much about the dancing, as well as the humor and its heart. Come prepared to suspend belief, escape and be entertained. Not a bad idea for a few hours break right now.

“Cats” is a magical, visually colorful and delightfully entertaining show, and that is true for this production as well. It is very much a ensemble show and this new touring troupe has some true gems, both in dancers and singers. Like the book it is based on, the show is a series of tale of various cats, with names like Mr. Mistoffelees, Munkstrap, Jennyanydots, Rum Tum Tugger and Old Deuteronomy, and animal adventures (including a dog number in the second act). But the musical also has an overall story to tie it together, about the cats gathering for a night of magic when one of them will be chosen to live again. But there isn’t much (if any) dialog in this show; everything is sung.

The production got off to an enthusiastic start with “Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats,” introducing the audience to the kind of quirky nonsense-word fun in store, with part of the troupe singing and other half dancing. Unfortunately, muddy sound from the amplification system hampered the singers’ efforts, making it hard to understand the charming, funny lyrics in the first act, although the sound quality improved in the second act.

Sound issues were no problem for Indalecio De Jesus Valentin, as Old Deuteronomy, who needed no amplification for his glorious operatic quality voice, the best voice in the show by far. The show’s most famous song is probably “Memory,” sung by Grizabella, the one-time beautiful show cat who is now a bedraggled stray, and played by Tayler Harris. “Memory” is usually a showstopper but Harris sang it in a subdued manner in the performance this critic attended, only belting it out in the reprise in the second act, raising questions about whether she was having issues with her voice that evening.

With the exception of Valentin, the dancing outshone the singing overall, hampered as it was by sound system issues, although the singers were still good. In the second act, Paul Giarratano as Mr. Mistoffelees delivered a spectacular dance performance, spinning and soaring balletically in his jacket of flashing lights, the production’s true-showstopper. In the first act, highlights were Zach Bravo as a very entertaining Rum Tum Tugger, and Max Craven and Kelly Donah as a pair of comic grifter cats Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer. John Anker Bow was charming as chubby Busteropher Jones in the first act but even better and more amusing as Gus (or Asperagus) the theater cat in the second.

Some things have changed over the years. In earlier productions of “Cats” I have seen, the costumes were more cat-like, with cat ears and whiskers very noticeable. Now, the heads for the costumes are rounder, with the ears and whisker less obvious, making the performers look more like lions with manes than domesticated house cats.

Usually the musical takes place on a stage filled with a multi-level scaffold-like set, on which the “cats” in their furry leotards climb and slink around. This production has a more pared down set, with no scaffolding, just some structures around the edges to represent the cast-offs in the alley where the cats meet. There is still a platform that rises up for the second act’s dramatic climax but otherwise everything in this production takes place on the ground or just off it.

“Cats” has lost none of its charm, providing delights for those seeing it again and those seeing it for the first time. “Cats” is on stage at the Fabulous Fox through Jan. 2.

© Cate Marquis