Purrly Theatrical Magic – CATS at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts

Yesterday,  I saw Cats at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. After experiencing the Pacific Chorale’s annual Tis the Season at Segerstrom Center, I longed to return.  It is committed to supporting artistic excellence on and off the stage. The futuristic design and quality seating make viewing performances comfortable for everyone, including vastly-growing pregnant ladies. People who have seen Cats often rave over the costumes, makeup, and its choreographer’s ability to train humans to do what comes naturally to cats, but they seldom are able to explain the plot of the pussy cat production. Putting perplexity aside, Cats is Andrew Lloyd Webber’s record-breaking musical based on T.S.Eliot’s, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats that offers insight into the night time life of cats at the Jellicle Ball. Cats believes in “purrly” theatrical magic, and on that faith it unquestionably delivers.

Cats is a musical in two acts about a tribe of Cats who gather once a year to choose a member of the tribe to be reincarnated. The musical showcases characters from all walks of life who are metaphors of characters from different parts of society. Their stories are told through the poetry of T.S. Eliot and relationships are presented through choreography.

Segerstrom Hall is transform into a huge nocturnal junkyard for Eliot’s flighty jellicle cats. Well before the lights went down, I felt emerged in the surroundings and magically placed in a mysterious, infinite land. The lifting spaceship brought us on a journey through the stars to a cloud-streaked moon as the lights went down and cats lurked in the isles.

Luxuriantly outfitted in whiskers, electronically glowing eyes, mask-like makeup, and every variety of feline costume, a top-notch troupe of American singer-dancers distinctly used cat-like movements to give each cat its own personality.

The songs give each cat his or her voice. If there is a point to Eliot’s catcycle, it is simply that ”cats are much like you and me.” As his verses personify all manner of cat, so do the tuneful melodies to which Mr. Lloyd Webber has set them. Among many others, the eclectic musical sources include swing (for the busy Gumbie cat), rock (the insolent Rum Tum Tugger), Richard Rodgers-style Orientalism (a pack of Siamese) and Henry Mancini’s detective-movie themes (Macavity, the Napoleon of crime).

There were a few performers that stood out beyond the rest. There wasn’t an arm or neck in the building that wasn’t covered in goosebumps when Melissa Grohowski, Grizabella, belted out Memory towards the end of the show. She nailed it with such a strong and powerful voice that I will forever be in awe of that moment she sang out, “Touch me! It’s so easy to leave me all alone with the memory of my days in the sun.  If you touch me you’ll understand what happiness is…”. The power and the desperation in her voice was overwhelming. Even if you don’t understand what Cats is about, there is no denying what Grizzabella was going through. There was one cool cat with some tricks up his sleeve and some jump in his step. The Magical Mr. Mistoffelees, Chaz Wolcott, was enchanting as he spun, and spun, and spun his way to a mesmerizing performance. His impeccable ballet skills and dance moves were enjoyed by the entire audience and when he stepped on stage for the final curtain call the audience rose to their feet for a standing ovation. Many of the other performers performed wonderfully, showcasing their acrobatics, dancing skills, and voice. Although their characters were not as memorable as others, they were still essential to the show.

Don’t miss the opportunity to view a great moment in theatre right here in Orange County.  For more information on tickets, you can go the Segerstrom Center for the Arts website or call (714) 556-2787.

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42 thoughts on “Purrly Theatrical Magic – CATS at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts

  1. Very nice review, Lesley. I think “Cats” was the first Broadway show I ever experienced–I was young, not a cat fan and had a hard time following the story. The acrobatics and costumes were amazing but I left not feeling “the magic”. Thankfully it didn’t keep me from the theater or other Andrew Lloyd Webber productions. Maybe it is time for me to give “Cats” another chance? ~~Bliss

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    • This is a non-equity tour and they have cheapened the show a bit (for logistical purposes). If you were left underwhelmed by the Broadway production, I really couldn’t tell you if you’d like this better. The actors and actresses were phenomenal, but the orchestra is very small and sounds a tad canned, whereas they had a full orchestra on Broadway. The set design is also reduced to just the stage.

      Just my two cents. Still love the show!

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      • Val,

        I totally understand and wish I had the full Broadway experience.

        I think my love for theatre blinds me to any negatives, but I certainly didn’t leave with the same magical feel as Wicked – A New Musical.

        I’d still recommend Cats to new and old viewers alike. Segerstrom Center is a beautiful experience in itself and when you park at the mall, you don’t even need to pay.

        🙂

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  2. Hey Lesley, I really admire you for your frequent and elaborate posts on various topics. I was positively surprised when I saw your post on “Cats”. I saw the musical in London about 12 years ago and still have a vivid memory of the show, and your description and beautiful pictures brought me right back to when I sat in third row at the age of fifteen. Thanks for that post and good luck with your pregnancy!

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  3. This is a wonderful, wonderful, outstanding critique of what Cat’s is. It does sadden me when someone doesn’t look at the history of a musical to get it’s full story. I am actually more of a fan of T.S. Elliot’s work than Webber’s in this case but still do enjoy Cats.

    Also, thank you for the like on my post “A Ripple Effect.”

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  4. As always, great pictures, and I appreciate your emphasis on the cats as symbols–it’s all too easy to get caught up in the theatrics and costumes and forget “Cats” was based on a work by one of the great American poets. I sometimes wonder if “Macavity: The Mystery Cat” isn’t Eliot’s own sly allusion to the powers of the poet hiimself.

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  5. Wonderful review Lesley. My favorite tidbit about this show is that the song “Memory” was initially written for “Sunset Boulevard,” another one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musicals. In the first tryouts of “Cats,” producers essentially told him to write a memorable number for the show or they would shut it down. Webber shifted “Memory” in as an eleven o’ clock number for Grizabella, and the show became a hit.

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  6. Hey, what’d you think of the acoustics in there? I was in Tier 1 and at times could barely hear the music (the overture was very quiet)- and I am very familiar with the music! I was just curious about what you thought.

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  7. I first saw Cats in London in 1982, then Christchurch 12 years later and have since seen amateur performances in Dunedin and Oamaru (New Zealand) – all were fantastic and I’d happily see it again.

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  8. Great blog and pics. You get to do all the things I would love to do if I had the money. It is awesome and I enjoy getting to read about them. My biggest adventure was Rome and Assisi. And that for me was to die for.

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  9. Your photos are amazing. I can’t imagine getting such a great shot during a viewing – do you prop the camera on a tripod? And how do you get so close!?

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  10. I went to see Cats at the Edinburgh Playhouse in Scotland (where I live!) and I thought it was one of the most magical things I’d ever seen.

    Thanks for reminding me of the awesomeness!

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  11. Just yesterday we had an odd span of time where for an hour we listened to Cats…it was amazing. I forgot how nice it is! My favourite is Magical Mister Mistofoles…or however it’s spelt. I guess for the longest time, I wished I was him! Amazing! Thanks for bringing it up..am still slaving to find a vintage t-shirt with the Cats logo!

    -The Eye x

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  12. This is my daughter’s favorite play. She has it memorized. I got her an old copy of TS book too. We saw this last year and it was amazing. She still glows when talking about it.

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