“CATS” Makes Magnificence in a Musical

EV Thurgood, Features Editor

For the first time since the beginning of the 2020 pandemic, The Smith Center has opened its doors for its patrons once again for the showing of “CATS the Musical.” I try to suspend all bias for the return to in-person theater going into the musical. I didn’t expect a cat-tastrophe but I also didn’t go into “CATS,” as it is more commonly referred to, expecting an entirely paw-sitive experience.

The first thing I noticed was that there were less people, not enough to be significant, but enough to be noticeable, and the people were still talking, just beneath masks. There were still concessions offered, but they had to be enjoyed in designated areas. The change felt almost physically painful when I received a playbill for “CATS.” The Smith Center has, in past years, had magazine level playbills, with many color pages, interviews and advertisements; they built an expectation. But without the revenue from the previous year, the “CATS” playbill was in black and white, significantly smaller in size, and only listed the songs and singers in the musical. I felt like I finally understood the phrase: ‘you can’t go home again.’

The musical itself was breathtaking. Most of my prior knowledge of “CATS” came from the cat-troversy surrounding the 2019 movie of a similar name, “CATS.” The media swelled with both compliments and condemnation toward the movie, mostly because of the unusual quality that the concept had. The premise of “CATS” is a group of felines cat-verging in a ball, each of them trying to win a place in the Heaviside Layer, where only one cat may go a year, or to put it in simpler terms, it’s a story of cats competing to go to heaven and set to music. The musical goes through songs introducing various cats all competing to go to the Heaviside Layer, set with fascinating choreography and a symphony of songs. The musical is as strange as it seems, and yet, it delights the senses and pulls the audience’s attention in a way that few things can.

The Smith Center’s program adviser describes “CATS the Musical” with the following words: “‘CATS’ has never come to The Smith Center before, and it’s great to reopen with a fresh production our audiences haven’t experienced yet on our stage. Not to mention, this show is a perennial favorite that has never lost its popularity since the beginning of its life several decades ago.” The music is composed by one of the most prolific names in theater, Andrew Lloyd Weber, who is best known for his other musicals “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “The Phantom of Opera.” It is based on T.S. Lawrence’s poetry collection, “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.”

I am lucky enough to have the fur-bulous pleasure of seeing Andrew Lloyd Weber’s three biggest plays (“Jesus Christ Superstar,” “The Phantom of Opera,” and now “CATS the Musical”) live at The Smiths Center, and while I have yet to find anything that surpasses “The Phantom of the Opera” in terms of drama, plot, and sheer skill of vocals, I can say that “CATS” holds a special place in my heart. I especially enjoyed the songs “Memory, performed by Tayler Harris and “The Rum Tum Tugger” performed by Zach Bravo.”

Overall, the experience, whilst at times felt like being mocked with my own memories, gave me hope that the COVID-19 virus didn’t make the world fall apart. While I know that we will never have the old way of ‘normal’ back, I’m excited for the future. I have a feeling that it’s going to be just claw-some.