The key to getting the most out of “Cats” is to give up trying to understand what’s happening.
This Andrew Lloyd Webber musical is about spectacle, not story. It’s a strange but exciting experience that includes flashing lights, explosions, acrobatics, pirate fights and tap dancing beetles.
You’re in a fantasy world. It’s not supposed to make sense.
Troika Entertainment’s national tour, which is now at the Gallo Center for the Arts, succeeds in offering the flash and pizazz audiences have come to expect from this 27-year-old show. The elaborate junkyard set, the furry feline costumes and the colorful wigs are all impeccable.
Though the cast’s energy level isn’t always as high as it should be and some of the singing lacks luster, the performers know how to act like cats. They hiss, slink around and paw each other just like any real feline.
It isn’t surprising that tickets went fast for this production (only a few single seats are left for today’s performances). “Cats” is one of the most popular musicals of all time, having run for 21 continuous years in London and 18 years in New York.
Based on T.S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats,” it swept the 1983 Tony Awards, winning best musical, best book of a musical, best lighting and best costumes.
Directed and choreographed by Richard Stafford, the touring show opens the same way the big city stagings did, with bright yellow eyes of several cats peering out of the darkness into the audience. The cats then pounce through the aisles, stopping to stare or sniff at audience members before making their way back to the stage.
What follows is a series of songs about the different, eccentric, unusual felines and their exploits.
Tricia Tanguy, who has a clear, pure voice, shines in the most well-known number, the ballad “Memory.” As the elderly glamour cat Grizabella, she is mocked at first by the other felines and then honored when she is chosen to be reborn in the Heavyside Layer, cat heaven.
Zander Meisner gets to turn on the sex appeal and charm as Rum Tum Tugger. In his fun rock-funk song named after his character, he uses the same moves that Steven Tyler probably did at 1970s Aerosmith concerts.
Playing the magic cat Mistoffeles, Chris Mackenthun performs some of the highest leaps, throws streamers out into the audience and makes a cat magically appear under a red sheet.
Christopher E. Sidoli gets to show off his impressive opera singing skills and pirate fighting ability as Gus, the theater cat.
Lively Felix Hess is an appealing Skimbleshanks, the railway cat who rides a makeshift train made out of bicycle wheels at the junkyard.
The backstage band, directed by William Waldrop, sounds sharp and clean.
While the lengthy, repetitive “Jellicle Ball” number could have been trimmed, the dancing offers a lot to admire, including leaps, high kicks, spins and jumps.
With all the acrobatic moves, including cartwheels, backflips and handstands, “Cats” feels a lot like a circus. That’s why it continues to make an enjoyable treat for audiences of all ages.
Bee arts writer Lisa Millegan can be reached at 578-2313 or firstname.lastname@example.org.