by Myah Schultz and Sarah Schultz
CATS is not for everyone—but to a certain breed of theater lover, it is everything. If you’re one of these, you MUST get to the Orpheum Theatre to witness an immaculate and joyful presentation of this singular and puzzling work.
The theater goes dark. We hear the first chaotic carnival strains of the overture. Glowing pairs of lights wink on all across the stage—watchful animal eyes, taking our measure. The lights blink in and out of existence in accordance with the music, evoking phantom felines slinking, stalking. Anticipation builds… builds… and then we see her—the first cat prowls into view, and we’re off to the jellicle ball!
Michelle E. Carter as Jennyanydots is an early standout. She brings such spirit and charm to the role, not to mention incredible tap dancing skills. Her quirky, comical facial expressions bring to mind a feline Shirley MacLaine, impossible not to adore. Carter continues to dazzle with choreography, vocals, and face play as a member of the ensemble throughout the show.
Hank Santos has the audience eating out of the palm of his hand, exuding a near lethal dose of charisma as Rum Tum Tugger. A contrarian dripping with confidence, this cat could easily be unlikable, but Santos imbues him with a magnetic rock star energy that never waivers for a moment. He maintains it through the very end of the show, milking the audience for every drop of praise before finally scooting offstage well after the last bow.
The audience’s curiosity about Macavity the Mystery Cat is cleverly stoked long before we meet him halfway through act two. We hear sinister laughter echoing off the walls. We watch ensemble members shriek his name in fear, darting for cover. At one point, a small chorus sings the moniker over bare bones orchestration; this section is breathy and dissonant—very different from anything else we hear all night. The payoff doesn’t disappoint; everything culminates in an epic battle that leads to the dramatic catnapping of Old Deuteronomy.
After seeing this show, I’m convinced that a train trip without Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat (John Zamborosky) on board is not worth taking. Zamborosky’s Skimbleshanks is so warm and endearing; he inspires support from the entire company as they raise an enormous train from junkyard miscellany. The wheels spin and the spout smokes as Skimbleshanks sings his heart out.
Ibn Snell transcends reality as the Magical Mister Mistofolees. With his lovely vocals and extraordinary dancing, Snell is a true show stopper, spinning and leaping to legendary heights. At the end of his number, after successfully manifesting Old Deuteronomy, he hops—weightlessly—into Old Deut’s arms, eliciting gasps of fond delight from the audience.
Tayler Harris as Grizabella carries the show to its zenith with “Memory,” working up to a “mic drop” moment as she belts the final verse.
Everything about this production is phenomenal. The dancing and singing are impeccable. Everyone gives 1000% from the opening number to the curtain call. The stage bursts with life. Despite the inherent absurdity of CATS, this cast manages to deliver an emotionally rooted performance, portraying a caring, close-knit community that leaves the more fanciful audience members (including yours truly) wondering how to join the jellicles. Never was nonsense more delightful!
Show dates are Tuesday, Oct. 25 to Sunday, Oct. 31 at the historic Orpheum Theatre. Performance times
are Tuesday through Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 1 and
Visit HennepinTheatreTrust.org or call 800.982.2787 for tickets.