The dazzling production playing at the Lincoln Theatre serves up all the spectacle that audiences have come to expect from professional versions of the show, which opened on Broadway in 1982 and ran for years. The musical is based in part on T.S. Eliot’s "Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats."
Spectacle is essential to the thinly plotted show, which might otherwise seem little more than a series of song-and-dance numbers strung together.
Not that it doesn’t have a plot at all. Threading through the numbers is the story of an eventful night experienced by a group of street cats, led by the wise Old Deuteronomy (an appropriately magisterial Ryan Stem). They have reached the point of selecting one cat to be elevated into a new and better life.
This plot allows for the introduction of about a dozen cats, including elderly but still feisty theater cat Gus (Stewart Bender, in an affecting performance); bouncy Jennyanydots (Abby Zeszotek); slyly seductive rock 'n' roll cat Rum Tum Tugger (Justin King); and the delightfully nimble cat thieves Mungojerrie (Kyle Swearingen) and Rumpleteazer (Sara Tuohy).
The production adds heart to the spectacle with the selection of Kendra Lucas as aging Grizabella, who is initially shunned by the other cats. Lucas’ acting is subtly poignant, and her singing of the iconic "Memory" dynamically moving.
Director Ryan Scarlata and choreographer Jeffrey Fouch (who also performs as the beguiling Mr. Mistoffelees) work together to create a production in which action and dance merge seamlessly. A cast of 27 can make for a crowded stage, but this one focuses attention on small, intense groupings, with quiet side pieces adding depth. The performers are consistently catlike without overdoing or parodying the feline effects.
Ensemble pieces build nicely, with aerial effects and use of the aisles adding drama. Michael Brewer’s magical set, an abandoned circus illuminated by an enormous moon, is given shape by Brendan Michna’s moody lighting.
Special credit should go to the three makeup artists who have transformed an eclectic group of performers into a consistent tribe of cats.
This version of the musical — which runs about two hours, including intermission — omits a few numbers and reprises from the Broadway and touring versions, though not ones likely to be missed.
Children might not be able to follow the obliquely metaphysical plot, but the music, visuals, and mesmerizing movement will win anyone’s attention. At the opening night performance on Thursday, even the youngest patrons seemed rapt.
They, as well as adults looking for a chance to revisit the show or see it for the first time, should jump at the opportunity that this production offers.