Sunday, 6 March 2011

Cats presented at the Chatham Capital theatre

Several weeks ago I got to see the Cats National Tour put on their delightful show at the Capital Theater. Later on, for an assignment for my drama (with a very definite lower case d) class I was asked to write a report on it. Below is that report. Strap in, it is a long one.

        We’ve sailed into new waters it seems, I finally decided to do a report on something good, and what I’m reviewing (CATS’ music and dance) deserves it.  Cats is the very famous musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber. It’s renowned in theatre for its ridiculously intricate choreography, the interesting and varied songs that all seem to feature different styles. Outside of theatre this is the musical everyone seems to tear into. I can see why, even if I don’t like the implications. This is theatre at its most fabulous. All the costumes are skin tight leotards, the cast is filled with dance and, well it is about Cats. But that wasn’t what I heard when I told people I was going to see it at the Capital Theatre in Chatham. Instead, the most typical reaction was a shorter word; associated with my go to word it seems, fabulous. People that so apathetically reject such a rhythmically sound, ‘not afraid to be emotional’ musical really pis- disappoint me. We live in an age where boys reject theatre as to fabulous and girls are too busy getting drun- the newest vampire themed trash. Teenagers (with several exceptions) reject theatre as to old, too clean and too musically ancient. So when a musical like Cats came along, with memorable characters and even more memorable songs what did teenagers do? Tuned it out for the most part. With the exception of, theatre kids. This small group of teenagers are obsessed with all things related to theatre and musical theatre. But (sadly?), they’re in the minority and so theatre will increasingly pander to the old while the young complain about how, “dumb,” theatre is.  I hope somewhere in that nest of bitter observation you got my message, Cats is unique, Cats is catchy, Cats is awesome.
          For once I can actually get under that two sentence maximum for a plot summary. For the plot is simply, a bunch of Cats meet, dance and sing about how great they are, and then one goes to Heaven, is reincarnated, goes to the Heavyside Lair.   I saw a National touring company put on Cats in Chatham at the Capital theatre. Why Chatham of all places and not the apparently theatre friendly city of London? I guess the Grand was too busy putting on another musical that predates the telephone. Once I got to Chatham I, like the hundreds of old people that came out to see Cats was hit by a realization. The Capital Theatre is trying really, really hard.  While the Grand is content doing its safe thing on the main stage while semi unique stuff floats around the McManus the Capital puts on anything and everything. This converted movie theatre planned out it’s opening year wisely. It has all the music and kiddie shows of Centennial Hall, and all the unique shows the McManus has. But these beacons of originality aren’t shoved into a basement but are put onto the main stage.  This is theatre done right. The Capital is run by a combination of volunteers, devotion and love. The grand is run by a consortium of grant hungry suits hell bent on cash. The Grand accomplishes this by putting on safe productions for massive runs; the grand has 7 main stage shows. The Capital has a massive selection of shows, and very short runs, it has 22 productions, all on the main stage.  Cats (I haven’t forgot about it!) is a lot like the Capital. Both were made by and for lovers of theatre, not lovers of spectacle. Neither one was created to pursue cash; a far cry from the spectacle theatre that now permeates Broadway. Broadway now relies on rehashing every old musical and when that fails taking movies and making them into poorly planned shows (ELF, Legally Blond). The greatest, rotund example is Spiderman the musical, it began it’s convoluted journey in 2002, still hasn’t opened, has had a small army of ant like producers and writers swarming over it and has cost a bunch of grubby capitalists 65 million, has been universally loathed by the critic community. It still hasn’t opened yet. Andrew Lloyd Webber took a book of poems, wrote music to them and created one of the longest running musicals for pennies compared to the bulbous Arachnid-Kid.  But even I’m starting to get tired so lets finally get this thing started, onto the Music of CATS.
Cats feature just about every genre that works with musical theatre. Due to this the only way to talk about the music is to go over a lot of songs individually.  Cats opens with a massive dance number, “Jellicle Cats,” detailing just what a Jellicle is. It’s very fast, and very catchy. After several more songs in this vein we get to, “The old Gumbie Cat,” another very catchy jazz inspired number. Next comes a song that everyone seems to love, the very rocking Rum-Tug-Tugger. I stopped the whole quotation marks around titles thing since every song is named after a character or group of character. The Tugger, being a rebellious playboy features a bass filled rock anthem to rejecting things just because you can. Bustopher Jones is one of my favourite songs of the bunch. It features the fat cat, Bustopher. Much of the song is him simply singing about the places he loves to go to eat, and it works beautifully as a song. The Jellicle Ball is a song I’ll leave for the next section. In the second act my favourite song/ cat of the bunch appears, Skimbleshanks. The song is very fast paced and very catchy. My dream role would be playing this cat as he bounds about.  We skip ahead to the one song clearly about the evil cat, Macavity. This song is a very slow, old, smoky jazz number. But midway through it picks up into a nice ensemble piece.  Memory is one of the last songs of the show and the one people remember most. But being some short attention span, dumb teenager i love the faster paced songs. Memory is still a very haunting, powerful song with themes of what it feels like to be rejected and past glory.  The Finale (Ad-Dressing of cats) is spoken verse interlaced with a nice tune. I’m not going to ramble about it since I hardly remember it. I suppose after two hours of dance and emotional singing a quiet finale is a nice break. And oh yes, they danced, every song, a different style.
           Dance and song is what drive this show forward, since there are only three lines of actual dialogue. All these actors are ridiculously flexible, you completely buy the fact their cats since they’re constantly on their toes stalking and slinking about the stage.  Every song is ridiculously detailed and intricate. Every unique Cat is doing something. Wait, I hate that last sentence, “doing something” is so mechanical sounding. The choreography in Cats is all organic, all in character.  Every song is fully choreographed with gymnast levels of acrobatics and flexibility. The song “The Jellicle Ball,” features eight minutes of straight dancing, so singing, all organic, smooth acrobatics and dance. It was here that I was going to show off my ability to use Google knowledge of dance, but Cats has rendered that bit of hubris impossible. The best way I could describe Cat’s style is, “flowing,” these actors bounce from place to place and perform, all while singing their hearts out.  This blend of freeform-jazz-ballet dance begs to be featured more, well everywhere.
         But now it’s time I finally wrap up this behemoth of a report.  The singing was emotive and powerful and all done while doing some of the best dancing I’ve ever seen. Cats has changed my life, and I mean that in all its cringe worthy, corny glory. The sheer devotion to detail that permeates this show drove me to ramble and drone on for hundreds of words you must likely don’t want to read at this time of night (it’s 1 am over on my end). It’s not just boring, sappy, overly long writing Cats has driven me to. It’s also kicked me into gear. Now every day before bed I don’t sit around complaining to others, I do stretches and exercises. When I get home I don’t crack open a box of cereal, I crack open the Internet (???) and recite several monologues. And I don’t listen to music, I sing it. CATS is a musical everyone should experience. But I’ve wasted enough of your time, I’m purrfectly happy (no kitting) to rest on my feline laurels with the fact that in over a thousand, perhaps semi amewsing  words I’ve yet to make a hiss-worthy, cat-astrophic cat pun.

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