Review of “CATS” in San Diego — Play Near End of Its Nine Lives.

Watching  “CATS”, the play by Andrew Lloyd Webber, was reminiscent of sitting in front of the television set and watching an old black and white movie like in the good old days; simple plots, no gimmicks, and compelling human talent.

However, if you keep in mind that “CATS” is celebrating 30 years as one of the longest running Broadway plays, you’ll understand this musical was conceived before the age of theater eccentricities (like “Spiderman” Broadways most expensively produced play to date).  You’ll also appreciate the sheer, raw talent this musical depends on for its staying power.  

The production of “CATS” currently playing at the San Diego Civic Theater is apparently not a big-budget one; the live orchestra though comprised of only five members commands better acoustics than the sound system responsible for carrying the actors voices —  which only added to the already hard-to-understand plot (does “CATS” have a plot?) of this musical.

The majority of  the well-choreographed numbers involve most of the crew throughout the play, and with no costume changes to speak of, the actors are on stage belting out songs and scurrying about the junk yard for the duration of the show — which also makes this a remarkable act of stamina.

The play’s most recognizable song, Memory, sung by Melissa Grohowski as Grizabella, the “glamour cat,” is still a remarkably moving song and will likely wrench a tear or two from your eyes (although you may not realize why you’re even crying) so bring some tissues.

Every shape, color and fur variation depicted in the characters’ costumes mimics the uniqueness of our feline friends, and paired with slinky, catlike moves, makes the human version of “CATS” easy to accept; we even forgive Mistoffelee’s black, rhinestones spandex suit an exchange for the dizzying number of pirouettes the svelte feline produces in his solo number.

The central plot of the play is observing the wise one, Old Deuteronomy,  ambling across the stage mysteriously looking to select  a lucky kitten who’ll get to fly up to kitty heaven in a jarringly unfitting space capsule  — which certainly didn’t come from the old junk yard — but is probably reason enough to stick around until the end and watch the contraption lift off. 

Nevertheless, this musical  is still worth the time and effort simply because it is an institution in the world of Broadway.  However, there are reminders everywhere that “CATS” is getting close to exhausting its nine lives; the endearing string of Christmas lights swaged from the top of the stage to the top of the balcony section are a low-tech touch, while the constant strobe lights flashing to the tune of equally antiquated electric guitar sounds serve as witnesses to the better  lives these furry characters have seen.

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