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Review: Nine lies about “Cats”

February 25, 2009
Nine lies about “Cats” (Which is in the midst of a revival at Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre).

1. “Cats” is the epitome of the safe, predictable Broadway show. Go into your way-back machine and try to imagine someone approaching you to provide financial backing for a feline-populated dance musical based on plotless T.S. Eliot poetry.

2. “Cats” is set in a junkyard. Well, the original production might have been, but the folks at Beef & Boards have wisely reimagined the setting. In changing it into an abandoned theater, director/choreographer Buddy Reeder maximizes the use of the space—include the, yes, catwalks—while making his “Cats” unique and surprising.

3. A B&B production means a cut-down cast. Nope. The cast includes 22 performers.

4. You either love “Cats” or you hate “Cats.” Actually, there’s plenty of wiggle room in between. It’s possible to enjoy the show’s dances, atmosphere, and sheer theatricality while hating such excruciating, act-haulting numbers as “Growltiger’s Last Stand” (wisely cut from the official video version) and “Pekes & Pollicles.”

5. “Memory” is the show’s only decent song. If you can stomach the whole premise, then there’s pleasure to be had in much of the score, including “Bustopher Jones,” “Gus, the Theater Cat,” and the infectious “Mr. Misoffelees.”

6. The characters in “Cats” are set in stone and there’s nothing new to be brought to them. Just watch in this production how the “magic” of Misoffelees (Philip Groft) brings back Old Deuteronomy (Ty Stover)—and observe MM’s own amazed reaction. The right actors and director can find new, equally right approaches to even the most familiar material.

7. As much as you try to resist it, the ending of “Cats” is always moving. Sorry, not this time, with a Grizabella (Sandra Simpson) who comes across more as your mother-in-law’s annoying neighbor at her retirement community than as a cat to be pitied and cheered for. Chelsea McLean fares much better as the lovely, heartbreaking kitten who reaches out to—and duets with—the Griz, almost saving the scene.

8. Wrapping a stage in lights is always a tacky choice. Usually, yes. But here, the half-working bulbs not only add to the run-down atmosphere, but also give a nice visual payoff later.

9. The food at Beef & Boards isn’t very good. I’m getting tired of defending the B&B buffet to those who’ve never been. No, it’s not gourmet. But I’ve never been disappointed or gone hungry here. And, come on, there’s pudding. Usually two kinds.

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