Cats is back in Omaha for the seventh time and it must take a sharper memory than mine to recall how many times we’ve heard Grizabella sing ‘’Memory’’ before Old Deuteronomy sends us home with his sage advice about the proper “Ad-dressing of Cats.”
It somehow seems newer, even fresher, this time and I didn’t catch myself envying the first-timers who might have been viewing the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical without all those memories of past performances at the Orpheum. The choreography seemed stronger than ever, with less feline slinkiness, and more ensemble impact.
And the old favorites, from Rum Tum Tigger in his rock star showiness, to Bustopher the Cat About Town and the likes of the Magical Mister Mistofelees, were as delightful as ever. You don’t think a lot about the cast members behind the makeup and costumes but let’s bow to John Anker Bow who play both Bustopher and Gus the Theatre Cat.
He’ll also get special attention from Orpheum audiences because he shares his big scene with Kayli Jamison, a Nebraska Wesleyan University grad, whose solo introduces Gus with a tribute to his dramatic career. Her voice and perky personality shine brightly even in Row T.
Highlights ranged from the light-footed dancing of Paul Giarattano as he swirled around the stage in the twinkling lights of his black costume to the less flashy but vocally perfect narrative work by Devon McCluskey as Munkustrap.
As for voices, they were strong everywhere, from the full choral sound to Tayler Harris as the aging Grizabella. The challenge for her is to give old Griz a little more of the necessary frailty before she ascends to cat heaven to receive the next of her nine lives.
“Memory” is obviously the song most of the packed house is waiting for, but so many musical moments grow ever more charming to those of us who cherish this show. I just love to hear Munkustrap and others roll the name Old Deuteronomy off their tongues, even though I’ve been known to irreverently refer to him as Old Colonoscopy.
As soon as I try to single out highlights I find myself recalling even more new favorites such as the dance team of Max Craven and Kelly Donah as Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer, the white cat Victoria played by Hyla Mayrose Perilla, plus the likes of Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat and the scary McCavity. And that still omits Michelle Carter’s impact early in the show as Jennyanydots, the not-so-lazy Old Gumbie cat.
This review is bound to offend that minority of theater fans that treat Webber’s extreme popularity as proof of inferiority. Yes, we need to be challenged by the innovative and experimental stories that tackle injustice, but thank goodness we have the likes of Cats, Phantom of the Opera, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat and Evita.
Cats continues at the Orpheum Theater, 409 S. 16th St., with 7:30 p.m. performances through Saturday and 6:30 p.m. Sunday, with matinees at 2 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday. Tickets from $30 to $92 are available through ticketomaha.com.