The fur is flying

Chanhassen Dinner Theatres’ presentation of “Cats” befits a legend.

Katie Wilber

With a unique staging of one of Broadway’s most beloved musicals, phenomenal dancing and impressive costumes, the crew at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres has shown that a play about felines that dance and sing is worth having around for more than 30 years.

Taken from T.S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats,” the musical “Cats” brings Grizabella, Rum Tum Tugger, Mr. Mistoffelees and the rest of the Jellicle Cats to life in spectacular fashion as they prepare for the annual Jellicle Ball. Old Deuteronomy is set to choose the cat who will move on to the magical and mystical Heaviside Layer, an honor bestowed on only the most deserving mouser.

After opening in London in 1981, the show came to New York the next year and eventually set the record for the longest-running Broadway musical; it picked up seven Tony awards along the way, including Best Musical, Best Score of a Musical and Outstanding Costume Design.

While the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber is one of the most incredible things to hit Broadway, something packing that much power creates an interesting situation. Many have tried, but few have succeeded in their efforts to master the combination of artistry and skill required to pull off a Webber production.

The score to “Cats” contains few spoken words, and if cast members aren’t singing, they’re dancing. In the overture, a harpsichord and concert bells slink in like a teenager coming home after curfew; they’re followed by a blast of trumpets possibly akin to the ones used on Jericho. The music alternately slips around and then stops to pounce on the nearest creature.

“The Old Gumbie Cat” gets its inspiration from 1940’s female trios while “The Rum Tum Tugger” puts a spin on things with jazzy saxophone and piano parts; for classical music fans there’s even a snippet of Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus.”

Most producers working on a compilation compact disc of Broadway tunes – if they want to create a marketable one – include at least one number from “Cats.” Ask someone on the street if they know a song from the show, and chances are the answer is “Memory.” One of the final numbers, it needs an actress with a large range and expressive vocal abilities to bring out the full amount of Grizabella the Glamour Cat’s emotions as she nears the end.

Webber’s works take talent, strength and determination to conquer, and those who manage that create marvelous memories.