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Littered throughout the audience at Tuesday night's opening of "CATS: The Musical" at the Kentucky Center, there appeared to be equal numbers of Broadway devotees and newcomers, which isn't surprising when you consider the feline classic is now 40 years old.
The 1982 record-breaking musical spectacular by Andrew Lloyd Webber ("The Phantom of the Opera," "School of Rock," "Sunset Boulevard") has been seen by hundreds of thousands of theatergoers in over 30 countries and 15 languages. Now on tour across North America, the Tony Award-winning show is currently playing now through Jan. 23 as part of the PNC Broadway in Louisville series.
Fanatical fans of the feline phenomenon came out Tuesday knowing every word to every song in the musical. But for those who had entered the "junkyard" for the first time, which might seem impossible for a show that's delighted audiences for 40 years, thoughts of "what's going on here?" weren't uncommon.
Exactly what goes on at a performance of the longest-running musical is mostly what has made it popular for four decades, although a few new twists have freshened the litter of kittens and clowder of cats.
Thanks to costume designer John Napier ("Les Misérables"), back are the full body suits, leg warmers, wigs and massive amounts of cat make-up. A noticeable update in the second act, Magical Mister Mistoffelees' twirls, leaps and sings in a jacket of many colors — thanks to ever-changing LED lights sewn into his costume.
Also back in all its magnificent glory is the enormous junkyard set where the mischievous kitties and inquisitive cats hang out to sing and dance their furry little hearts out to choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler ("Hamilton.")
The touring production, which includes José Raul Mangual as Munkustrap, Max Craven as Mungojerrie, Tayler Harris as Grizabella and Zach Bravo as Rum Tum Tugger, give memorable and enjoyable performances, standing out from the ensemble of acro-cats.
But it is this acrobatic ensemble that transforms the stage from a group of actors into a space filled with felines. With a flick of the head, an arch of the back, a sudden exuberant pounce, before you know it, the mesmerizing choreography and costumes pull you in and you forget these are real humans — you'll swear these nimble characters are actual cats.
The PNC Broadway in Louisville production of "CATS" ushers back a live orchestra into the pit. After two years of COVID-19 concerns, there is a richness to the sound of the live clarinet, keyboard, guitar and percussion emanating from below the stage. The popular songs weave together an energetic and heartfelt story that takes place during one magical night when an extraordinary tribe of cats gathers in the junkyard for its annual ball to rejoice and decide which cat will be reborn.
The theater audience is introduced to specific cats throughout the performance, such as the ultra-masculine Rum Tum Tugger, the ailing Grizabella and the sage Old Deuteronomy. If you have a cat in your home, you are sure to recognize characteristics of your pet in at least one of the characters. Highlights from the score include "Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats," "Magical Mister Mistoffelees" and one of the most treasured songs in musical theater, "Memory."
Besides Webber's original score, there is all-new lighting design by Natasha Katz ("Aladdin") and all-new sound design by Mick Potter. Blankenbuehler's new choreography is based on the original choreography by Gillian Lynne ("Phantom of the Opera") and direction by Trevor Nunn ("Les Misérables.") Like the cats themselves, the updates add a subtle delight to enhance the iconic production.
If you haven't seen "CATS: The Musical," it truly is a feline curiosity and classic worth the price of a ticket. And if you're a longtime fan of the show, it's worth attending for your own "memory."
The 2021-22 PNC Broadway in Louisville series, which includes "Cats," also features "Come From Away," "Mean Girls," "Hamilton" and "Anastasia." Tickets can be purchased at louisville.broadway.com.
Reach Kirby Adams at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @kirbylouisville.
PNC Broadway in Louisville 'Cats'
WHAT: The record-breaking musical spectacular by Andrew Lloyd Webber arrives in Louisville with new choreography, lighting and sound to tell the story of one magical night when an extraordinary tribe of cats gathers for its annual ball to rejoice and decide which cat will be reborn.
The original score by Webber ("The Phantom of the Opera," "School of Rock," "Sunset Boulevard"), original scenic and costume design by John Napier ("Les Misérables"), all-new lighting design by Natasha Katz ("Aladdin") and new choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler ("Hamilton") make this a production a new generation.
WHERE: Kentucky Center's Whitney Hall, 501 W. Main St.
WHEN: now through Jan. 23. Wednesday and Thursday evenings at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m., Saturday matinee at 2 p.m., Sunday matinee at 1 p.m., and Sunday evening at 6:30 p.m.
TICKETS: $47.39-$145.67. Available online at kentuckyperformingarts.org or by calling 502-584-7777.
COVID-19 PROTOCOL: To gain entry to this event, all patrons must wear masks and provide proof of vaccination or proof of negative COVID test, PCR Test no older than 72 hours from arrival at the event or Antigen Test no older than 24 hours from arrival at the event.
ALLEY CAT ADVOCATES DONATION DRIVE: PNC Broadway in Louisville and 'Cats' will partner with Feeder Supply and MIX 106.9 to support feral felines in our community. Now through Jan. 23, donation bins for items like kitten food, clay non-clumping cat litter and cleaning supplies will be set up in most Feeder Supply locations and during the run of 'Cats' in the lobby at Kentucky Center. Donations will be collected by Alley Cats Advocates whose mission is to provide humane treatment of unowned cats in the Louisville area.
Alley Cat's wishlist of items:
Purina Fancy Feast Fish and Shrimp Feast Flaked, Flaked Gourmet, or Gravy Lovers Poultry and Beef Feast Collection, canned cat food
Purina canned kitten food, any flavor
Purina One Healthy Kitten Formula, Purina One Adult, Purina One Sensitive Systems Clay non-clumping cat litter, any brand
Purina Yesterday’s News or Feline Pine cat litter
Virbac Epi-Otic Advanced Ear Cleanser For Dogs and Cats (All Sizes)
3-ounce Dixie cups
Snuggle Safe heating pads
Small disposable litter boxes
Dawn dish soap
Kitchen garbage bags
AA and 9V batteries
HotHands Hand Warmers
Toe warmers to put under the traps (under the bait food) during cold days to keep bait from freezing
Jumbo Space Saver Vacuum Bags for storage
This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: 'CATS: The Musical' Louisville Broadway review: Great songs, costumes