This fourth national tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cats” cuts the show down to a chewable size. Gone are the monster cereal boxes and other outsize props that filled the Shubert auditorium when it first played here.
Now it all fits neatly on the Shubert stage (the production moves to Palm Desert’s McCallum Theatre following this stand) and, if you don’t look too closely, it almost--but not quite--looks like the original London production, which has been playing since May, 1981, at the New London Theatre (closer in size to the Mark Taper Forum than the Shubert).
The dancing is still that which choreographer Gillian Lynne simplified for American audiences, and Grizabella the Glamour Cat still rises to the Heaviside Layer on what looks like a lighted alien vessel, rather than majestically climbing a staircase into the clouds as in London. But the smaller scale does let the audience see the show without elephantine distractions.
“Cats” is still fun to watch, and it’s Lloyd Webber’s most amusing score (he had a witty lyricist in T.S. Eliot), though the sound system sometimes makes the orchestra strident and shrill. It treats the vocals with more kindness.
Like a fourth-generation tape copy, this fourth touring company lacks some of the freshness and energy earlier versions had, but the cast does have some standouts.
There is a fine, bedraggled aura around Donna Lee Marshall as Grizabella, and her edgy voice has the right forlorn quality, like a lounge singer past her prime. Her true voice is clear and powerful, and she does manage to raise a few goosebumps at the climax of “Memory,” the show’s hit song.
Vince Pesce is bright and mercurial as the magical Mistoffelees, and flashes around the stage in Lynne’s choreography with the lightness of a feather. But it’s Bradford Minkoff who almost steals the show as the rock ‘n’ roll Rum Tum Tugger, vibrantly bubbling over with a sense of fun.
There’s also an unidentified member of the chorus to keep an eye out for; where others often seem to forget they’re cats, he remains totally feline, as curious as a kitten, even when he’s just sitting watching the leads. It’s this general lack of concentration that keeps this staging from taking full advantage of the opportunities the smaller scale offers.
The production has its flaws, but especially for anyone who has not seen the show before, there are also rewards.