Review, Theater

Review: “Cats” is in it for the memory

Cats is the fourth longest running show in musical theater history. Anyone who is a fan of musical theater or Broadway or really just theater in general is familiar with this iconic musical. It is composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber, based on a book by T.S. Eliot entitled “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats”– a collection of poems about felines.

This particular production began generating media attention late 2009 when Tony Award winner Lea Salonga was announced to play the even more iconic role of Grizabella the Glamour Cat– a role, however primary, was on stage for no more than fifteen minutes (three songs).

The transformation of the prestigious Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo was noteworthy. The high production value of the show (and high ticket prices) really reflected in the show itself. The set was beautifully created into a junkyard-type setting complete with gigantic props to proportionate the human-sized cats. The entire production was flashy– incorporating pyro-techniques and elaborate lighting that was indeed a feast for the eyes.

Yes, one would indeed get one’s money’s worth when one goes out to see this production of Cats but when it comes down it it, the show is still entirely about cats– nearly three hours of musical theater actors dressed as cats singing about what it’s like to be a cat. It is really a production more apt for children because they would be so impressed with the blatant theatrics of this production. What the material (and the show) spent on theatrics was clearly to make up for its lack of substantive plot.

Lea Salonga, however, did not disappoint. Her version of “Memory” was– pardon the pun– memorable indeed. It was an experience in itself witnessing not only a Tony Award-winning Broadway star but a world-class Filipino talent so closely. She commanded an inexplicable awe among the audience, leaving all to silence every time she opened her mouth.

To have some of the cats themselves interact with the audiences at certain times during the play was a nice touch. The rest of the cast were amazing in their own right. Beautiful voices, impeccable dancing and so on. No note, dance move nor stunt was executed half-heartedly and even so, they did not sacrifice actual acting.

A wonderful surprise for the Manila audiences was a salinawit of an English verse and sang beautifully by one of the Australian cast members in Tagalog:

Cats is certainly a feast for the senses– filled with elaborate costumes, set design and high production value, it transports one into an entirely different world altogether. But, again, it is not so much for adults as it is for children. Adults would only find themselves disengaging at times because it doesn’t stimulate the intellect at all.

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