Essential Arts: ‘Cats’ is the stage-to-film cat-astrophe we can’t stop talking about

The cast of the stage musical "Cats"
The cast of the stage musical “Cats” in happier, pre-”Cats” movie days.
(Nigel Teare / Associated Press)

The internet is all about cats, so we are dutifully complying. I’m Carolina A. Miranda, staff writer for the Los Angeles Times, with the new millennium’s essential arts news:

One for the litter box

Distracting us from impeachment proceedings has been the all-around terribleness of Tom Hooper’s film version of Broadway’s now-and-forever show “Cats,” which features an array of creepily anthropomorphized felines.

Begin with Times film critic Justin Chang‘s review, the sort you read aloud to friends over drinks: “For all this talk of digital fur technology, there appears to be no fur on the cats’ actual digits, their unnervingly human fingers and toes. And just to round out this nightmarish anatomy lesson, Hooper often directs his actors to splay their legs and bare their flat, undifferentiated crotches for the camera.”


Want more? The Times rounds up the zingiest “Cats” reviews.

Times theater critic Charles McNulty notes in an equally zingy story about the legacy of Andrew Lloyd Webber‘s smash musical: “Theater people resent ‘Cats’ not just because it made Broadway uncool. ... What really infuriates buffs is that ‘Cats’ ushered in an era of grandiose spectacle, the vacuous parade of shows from the 1980s and early ’90s that made it seem as if a musical had to have a helicopter or a crashing chandelier to be worth the rapidly rising ticket price.”

Ordinarily I would illustrate this with a still from Hooper’s movie, but they are awful and I have aesthetic standards to adhere to — so here’s a photo of my pal’s cat Coco wearing antlers instead:

Coco the cat wearing antlers for the holidays.
(Carolina A. Miranda / Los Angeles Times)

You’re welcome.

The Millennium 100

All of us on the Times’ arts and entertainment staff put our many heads together to compile our 100 favorite pop culture moments from the new millennium ... so far. Naturally, it contains Beyoncé and “Star Wars.” But it’s also got plenty of art, theater, music, dance and architecture, with items devoted to “Hamilton,” Disney Hall, Gustavo Dudamel, the Tate Modern, Elaine Stritch, Misty Copeland, the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time series, Michael Maltzan‘s humane housing for the homeless. And much, much more...

The Millennium 100
Favorite pop culture moments

Plus: I talk about some of the art world’s hot-button issues for 2019 on KCRW’s Press Play.

In the galleries

An “engrossing” midcareer retrospective of New York-based painter Julie Mehretu recently went on view at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. “In her best paintings ... Mehretu walks a tightrope,” Times art critic Christopher Knight writes. “On one side is consolidation, on the other is disintegration. Collapse is underway, coalescence strains. Schism and synthesis spar.

Julie Mehretu, "Stadia II," 2004, from the artist's survey at LACMA.
(Carnegie Museum of Art)


When Susan Lieu was 11 years old, her mother died as a result of a plastic surgery procedure. That is the topic the performer explores in her one-woman show, “140 LBS: How Beauty Killed My Mother,” which will be on view in L.A. and O.C. in the coming days. It’s a production she created and marketed by herself while pregnant. “I don’t have time to see if an artistic director will program me in one or two years from now,” she tells The Times’ Ashley Lee.

Susan Lieu performs her one-woman show, "140 Lbs: How Beauty Killed My Mother."
(Ashley Yung)

And because she has nerves of steel, Lee recently attended seven — seven — SoCal productions of “A Christmas Carol.” This included a Shakespearean version, an updated comedic version with a Lime scooter, a one-man version that had a single actor toggling among the roles of narrator, Scrooge and Bob Cratchit, and one with a spine-chilling Scrooge that warmed the cockles of our reporter’s heart with its story of redemption.

F. Kathleen Foley reviews Neil McGowan’s play “Disposable Necessities” at Rogue Machine. The story is about a future in which the wealthy can download their personalities into new bodies. Writes Foley: “Director Guillermo Cienfuegos and a lively cast tear into their material with brio.”

Classical notes

Times classical critic Mark Swed attended Wild Up’s “darkness sounding” series in Joshua Tree — one of 11 “mindful music” concerts for the darkest days of the year. “The sad time of year,” said director Christopher Rountree, seemed ripe for “making music in the dark about the dark, embracing ritual, nature, space, listening and simply being together.”

A cloudy sky covers the moonrise at the Creosote House in Joshua Tree, part of Wild Up's "darkness sounding" series.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Catching up

L.A. photographer George Rodriguez has photographed the East L.A. blowouts and rising rap acts for music magazines. Last year, when I covered the publication of his book “Double Vision: The Photography of George Rodriguez,” I noted that his studio contained a painted backdrop from an early-’80s shoot with N.W.A that had been signed by Dr. Dre and Eazy-E. (Musical history!)

Here’s a snap I got of him standing in front of it:

Photographer George Rodriguez in his downtown Los Angeles studio in April 2018. Behind him is a backdrop he employed for an early shoot with N.W.A.
(Carolina A. Miranda / Los Angeles Times)

Last weekend, I went to see Rodriguez’s solo show at the Vincent Price Art Museum, where the backdrop is currently displayed. And while I was there, I met the East L.A. artist who made it: Larry Ruedas Jr., who in the ’80s was known by his graffiti name, LARIE.

Ruedas saw media coverage of Rodriguez’s book last year and reestablished contact with the photographer — turning out for his book signing at VPAM last Saturday. He says he is amazed that his paper backdrop has survived over the decades.

“I thought this would have been tossed,” says the artist. “It’s a shock to see my artwork still there!”

Larry Ruedas Jr. — once known as LARIE — stands in front of a graffiti backdrop he painted for N.W.A.
Larry Ruedas Jr. — once known by his graffiti tag LARIE — stands in front of the backdrop he painted for a magazine shoot for the rap group N.W.A in the 1980s. It is now on view at the Vincent Price Art Museum.
(Carolina A. Miranda / Los Angeles Times)

The backdrop, along with a selection of Rodriguez’s photos, will remain on view at VPAM through Feb. 29. (Note: The museum is closed from Dec. 24 to Jan. 4.)

More out of East L.A.: Lowrider, the car magazine that was also about Chicano identity, will cease to print but may still appear occasionally in digital form. Times reporter Dorany Pineda looks back at the history of the magazine, which Cal State Northridge professor Denise Sandoval said represented “the codes of the Boulevard: ... Pride, respect, corazón [heart], family, brotherhood.”


Scott Timberg, a former Times reporter who authored the book “Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class,” has died at the age of 50. As a freelancer he regularly contributed to The Times’ arts section. His stories, and his incisive point of view, will be sorely missed.

Scott Timberg, author of the book "Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class."
(Steven Dewall / Yale University Press)

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Ready for the weekend

Matt Cooper has the list of everything doing the week ahead in dance, theater, museums and classical music in SoCal. He also rounds up the nine best things to do in L.A. in the coming week, including a performance of Handel’s Messiah at Disney Hall.

And I list all the visual arts happenings in my weekly Datebook, which includes an intriguing new show of photography at the Getty Museum.

"The Thinker," about 1930, a photograph by Hiromu Kira, at the Getty Museum.
(Sadamura Family Trust / J. Paul Getty Museum)

In other news...

— What choreographer Mark Morris likes to read.
Alissa Walker on how our cities failed us this decade.
Zoë Madonna does a year-ender on how #MeToo has played out in the world of classical music.
South Coast Repertory has received a $5 million gift from philanthropists Julianne and George Argyros.
— And Riverside’s Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art received a $750,000 gift, pushing its fundraising total to nearly $14 million.
— The Autry Museum has hired two ambitious new curators: Joe D. Horse Capture and Tyree Boyd-Pates.
Frieze Projects curators Rita Gonzalez and Pilar Tompkins Rivas will explore truth and lies in Hollywood for their installation at the L.A. Art Fair in February.
— Employees at the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura (INBAL), the Mexican cultural organization responsible for numerous Mexican museums, allege severe wage delays.
— Need a podcast to get you through a holiday drive? The Getty’s “Recording Artists,” hosted by curator Helen Molesworth, focuses on the story of six women making art during the feminist and civil rights movements, including Betye Saar, Eva Hesse and Lee Krasner.
— Critic Peter Schjeldahl’s stirring tribute to the messy art of living is a must-read.

And last but not least...

Marinate in the director’s cut of Solange Knowles’ “When I Get Home,” which includes artful elements such as shots of Houston’s Rothko Chapel, art by Jacolby Satterwhite and paintings by Robert Pruitt.