Laura and Samara spend their days as non-profit unicorns and fill every spare minute exploring the world of musical theatre as BFFs (that’s Broadway Friends Forever). Follow @bffs613 on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
To say Cats was our least anticipated show of the National Arts Centre’s 2019/2020 season is probably an understatement. We know it’s a much-loved show by many, but we also know that a lot of musical theatre fans find it lacking and its popularity baffling. So, even before we went to “hate-watch” the Tom Hooper movie at the end of last year, we weren’t sure what Cats would have in store for us.
Based on a book of poems by T.S Eliot, the show follows a group of Jellicle cats as they wait in anticipation to learn which of them will be chosen to start a new life. With a score by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Cats is well-known and is the fourth longest-running show in Broadway history. So, as self-professed theatre nerds, we had to see it when it came to the NAC.
The staging is enticing with a junkyard-style look and strung lights that connect from the stage throughout the theatre and when they turn on throughout the show it adds a beautiful touch. Though the staging remains the same from start to finish, props and costumes come in and out and add even more to each song. On top of that, the cast shines with beautiful dancing and powerful voices and this instantly made Cats a better experience on stage then it had been in movie theatres a few months back.
However, the lack of plot can’t be ignored. We spent most of act two in absolute befuddlement—unsure of what was happening at any moment in time. The show is actually a series of vignettes where each song highlights a trait or story of one of the cats, so there’s no central theme or story or character development that pulls these all together or drives the narrative forward. On top of some fluctuating microphone volumes in the production we saw, following every detail in the songs only got harder as the show went on. Though at least we knew we weren’t missing key plot details…
However, for the rest of us, Cats leaves a lot to be desired, with a non-existent plot, some dated, and at times confusing, costumes, and some pretty questionable songs.
The dancing and choreography, however, really carries the show as the score has no real depth, has cheap and childish rhymes and no consistent sound or feel. With a show that is completely sung, some songs seemed to go on forever, or at other times, four songs seemed to meld into one.
If you are already a fan of the music (ie. have listened to the cast recording on repeat) and have never seen Cats on stage, you couldn’t ask for a better production value to bring something you already love to life.
However, for the rest of us, Cats leaves a lot to be desired, with a non-existent plot, some dated, and at times confusing, costumes, and some pretty questionable songs. We were happy to check this one off our list of “shows to see” and leave it in the rearview mirror.
Want to get a little taste of what’s in store? We’ve included some of the well-known and standout songs from Cats in our playlist below.
Cats plays at the National Arts Centre (1 Elgin Street) until Sunday March 15, 2020. Tickets range from $97–203. The performance runs approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes including intermission.