“What’s a Jellicle cat?” It’s a phrase repeated throughout the opening of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s seminal oddity Cats
, which somehow became an instant smash upon its 1981 release, and it’s a question that’s plagued my thoughts since age 7, when my teenage brother returned from a Detroit production with cat-scratch fever. Wanting to impress him, I stole the tape and set about memorizing every word. Months later, I made my debut, regaling him with a pretty damned accurate rendition of the whimsical “Mr. Mistoffelees.” He was appalled: “What the hell is wrong with you? You’re so lame.” I was crushed. I had never seen the play, but the songs remained, haunting my psyche but still making little sense. Webber harvested his idea from a series of T.S. Eliot poems, which he put through the filter of cheesy hot jazz and creepy, off-key synthesizer cues. Then, apparently, he raided David Bowie’s costume closet post-Labyrinth
. What the hell was Webber on? Two decades and far too much contemplation later, I finally chanced upon Broadway Rose’s revival and learned the answer: There are no answers. But, oh, what a glorious spectacle, re-created here in all its nonsensical, synth-blasting, jaw-droppingly wacky glory. What is a Jellicle cat? Why, it’s an excuse for an actor to don a skintight leotard and belt out jazzy balladry while performing extremely elaborate and acrobatic choreography. It shows how versatile actors are—and how well they can endure repeated utterances of the word “Skimbleshanks” without breaking into giggles. This troupe, without exception, nails every beat. Seven-year-old me would have been amazed. Thirty-one-year-old me wanted to drink heavily, immediately, and go home and listen to the Glee
soundtrack. That’s what the cool kids like these days, right?
Deb Fennell AuditoriumPhone:
9000 SW Durham Road, TigardWebsite: http://www.broadwayrose.org/shows/cats