Not So Much the CATS Meow, April 1 – 3

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April 1 – 3
TPAC’s Jackson Hall
505 Deaderick St., Nashville
782-4040 *
Remaining showtimes: Sat 2 and 8 p.m., Sun 1 and 6:30 p.m.
Tickets: $32.50 – $68

The first time I saw the legendary musical CATS was back in the mid ’90s, and I was blown away. Hardcore theater patrons have always been divided in their opinions of the show … they either love it or hate it; there aren’t a lot of in betweeners in the mix.

Being an animal lover, part of my draw to the show is the fact that the characters on stage are a colorful cadre of kitties. And if you have felines in your household, you certainly can relate to the entire “Naming of Cats” number at the beginning of Act I. The other thing I’ve always loved about the show is Andrew Lloyd Webber’s unique, creative score.

My inaugural experience with CATS was an equity touring production that was also at TPAC many years ago … with a full orchestra providing the musical accompaniment. Unfortunately, though, the current rendition in Jackson Hall falls short of the glory that the show should be. This is a non-equity production, and it’s evident.

While the stage set and the costumes are on the mark, the overall delivery, well, just doesn’t deliver in the kind of over-the-top fashion one expects from one of the longest running shows in Broadway’s history.

The playbill credits four touring musicians (two keyboard players, a guitarist and a drummer), and perhaps they are playing live somewhere backstage completely unseen. From the audience’s perspective, it sounds like a lot of pre-recorded music tracks, at least filling in a lot of gaps that a four-piece band cannot produce. Couple that with a sub-par sound mix and the audience doesn’t get to enjoy the wonder and awe of completely live orchestration with the music. And when you’re going out to see a musical, um, the music is vital.

The cast offers up a fine vocal performance, but again, not to the point that really gives the audience a real “WOW” factor, and Webber’s score demands that. Although Kathryn Hotlkamp is the show’s vocal star as Grizabella, she holds back too much for my preference.

The biggest disappointment, though, is Matthew Taylor’s portrayal of Rum Tum Tugger. Traditionally, that character is a crowd favorite. The Tugger is the rock ‘n roll cat who should exude a powerful stage presence and royally rock the room with his signature number. In this production, Taylor delivers a mellow, cheesy pop act versus the off-the-charts rock star that his character is supposed to be.

Overall, if you opt to take your kids to see this production of CATS, I’m sure they’ll enjoy it just because of the novelty aspect. They obviously aren’t going to sit there and dissect it the way someone like me will. And taking your kids to the theater is a great gift for them. But I really wish you could take them to the same caliber (equity!) production of CATS that I initially experienced. They might like this one, but goodness knows that they would be undoubtedly blown away if they got to experience this show in a more high-quality offering.

I appreciate TPAC bringing a variety of shows to us, but my personal wish is that the powers-that-be there revise their focus and commit to ONLY bringing equity productions to its stage. There’s a lot to be said regarding QUALITY over quantity.

Chad Young is the managing editor and arts/entertainment editor for this publication.

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