The first musical I actually saw on Broadway – not on tour, but on the Great White Way itself – was Cats. Despite my young age of about 12, I left the Winter Garden Theatre that evening more than a little jaded. "This," I queried, "is what Broadway is about?"
Happily, I did not have the same experience leaving the Georgetown Palace Theater after seeing Cats there.
Perhaps it's because, as I grew older, I came to appreciate some of the realities of Cats: its broad commercial appeal, the hummability of its tunes, the spectacular costumes called for, and even the somewhat Stanislavskian opportunity to watch a cavalcade of dancers transform into felines. Each of these aspects is to be found in the Palace's production, but the list doesn't end there.
The show begins with an overture played tightly by a sixpiece orchestra conducted by Jonathan Borden (who's deserving of special kudos for the many hours I'm sure he spent programming the three keyboards featured in the orchestration). Along with that overture comes one of the production's most thrilling moments: a dazzling light show courtesy of Sam Kokajko. Indeed, his lighting design, with cues numbering in what one would imagine to be the thousands, serves as one of the high points of the evening. Between the work of Borden and Kokajko, and that of director/musical director/set designer Clifford Butler and choreographer Vincent Sandoval, the hours invested in bringing Cats to life on this stage must have been staggering. It's a huge production, and a glance through the list of performers, crew members, and volunteers involved in it reminds us that to mount such a spectacle takes a village – and then some.
Children and adults will likely thrill to the many bright and colorful lights, sounds, and dances. The pace moves quickly for the most part, and despite some difficulty in understanding all of the lyrics, the performances are quite impressive. During the matinee I attended, the place was packed like a sardine can.
In his director's note, Butler shares a bit of dialogue from John Guare's Six Degrees of Separation: "Aeschylus did not invent the theatre to have it end up a bunch of chorus kids in cat suits prancing around wondering which of them will go to kitty-cat heaven." I chuckled as I read that, remembering my 12-year-old self at the Winter Garden. Through my experience as a theatre professional, I'm now able to see Cats in a new way, and it's one that the Georgetown Palace delivers admirably.
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