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‘Cats’ prances into the Pantages purring

Ensemble cast of 2021-2022 national tour of "Cats" at the Hollywood Pantages (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

More than 40 years after its initial London debut, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s iconic musical “Cats” is enjoying a short but lively stint at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre, now through Oct. 16.

Lloyd Webber’s delightful, provocative music (conducted by Jonathan Gorst); energetic choreography (Andy Blankenbuehler); beautiful costuming (John Napier), makeup and hair (fur?); and a committed cast of more than 20 lithe performers inhabiting their feline roles to within a whisker—all combine to make this national touring production the cat’s meow.

Based on a book of poems by T. S. Eliot, “Cats” consists of a series of sung portraits of such curious cats as the sneaky duo Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer (Brian Craig Nelson and Taryn Smithson), the depraved Macavity (Sam Buchanan), a preening Rum Tum Tugger (Hank Santos) and industrious Skimbleshanks the railway cat (John Zamborsky).

Image courtesy Hollywood Pantages

A loosely suspenseful story thread ties together these and all the other “Jellicle” cats (Eliot’s invented breed) as they frolic at the Jellicle ball under a Jellicle moon—namely, who among them will the solemn, well-respected Old Deuteronomy (Cameron Schutza) choose to be born anew?

Each cat gets their moment in the sun, or rather moon, during this night of “Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats,” the infectious opening number praising what this intrepid multicolored breed would and can do. And every cat stands out in its performance.

Michelle E. Carter is cutely expressive as curvy Jennyanydots, shedding her puffy outerwear for a jazzy dress in “The Old Gumbie Cat.” Santos completely owns the Rum Tum Tugger’s strutting rock-star persona. And Ibn Snell brings a strong yet graceful ballet sensibility as the cat praised in “Magical Mister Mistoffelees,” complete with rainbow lights on his black-cat costuming.

Tayler Harris (Grizabella) in "Cats" at the Hollywood Pantages (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

Lurking about in the shadows is the aging Grizabella (Tayler Harris), a formerly gorgeous cat now shunned, tattered and torn, having only her “Memory” to remind her of what was. Harris imbues Grizabella’s plaintive song with melancholic depth through her richly resonant voice, eliciting audience tears as the day dawns and she pleads for a touch.

Lending further emotional depth is a well-cast John Anker Bow as Asparagus, or Gus for short, nostalgically recalling his days on the stage in “Gus the Theatre Cat,” with the help of kind and helpful kitty Jellylorum (Allyson Duarte).

And bringing a playful sexiness are jealous-of-each-other female cats Demeter (a striking Nora DeGreen) and Bombalurina (Erica Lee Cianciulli) singing of “Macavity, The Mystery Cat” who “cheats . . . at cards.”

Ensemble cast of 2021-2022 national tour of "Cats" at the Hollywood Pantages (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

Charming, fun and well-performed from start to finish—and infused with Lloyd Webber’s intricately orchestrated songs, Trevor Nunn’s precise direction and clever lighting by Natasha Katz—“Cats” is simply a delight to experience. This talented touring company sings energetically and brings a fresh lightness to the choreography, making four decades feel instead like “a new day has begun.”

“Cats” continues at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, through Oct. 16, with shows Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., Sunday at 1:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., and Tuesday through Friday at 8 p.m. Tickets range from $39 to $149 and can be purchased by calling the box office at (866) 755-2929 or visiting Masks are optional. Run time is 2 hours and 20 minutes, including intermission.


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