Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats, one of the longest running musicals in Broadway history, is playing at Portland’s Keller Auditorium now through Sunday, June 26. My teenage son and I attended opening night, and we both thought it was visually and musically stunning. Based on a 1939 collection of poems written for children by T.S. Elliot, Cats opened on Broadway in 1982 and won the Tony Awards for Best Musical and Best Musical Score. The music and dancing are absolutely incredible, and much to the embarrassment of my son, I left the theater tapping my feet and humming the melodies.
The show takes place in a moonlit junkyard where a clan of cats known as the Jellicles gather to celebrate the Jellicle Ball. At this annual event, their dearly-loved leader, Old Deuteronomy, chooses one cat he deems worthy to go “up, up, up to the Heaviside layer.” Your kids will be surprised to learn that the Heaviside layer is a real layer in the earth’s ionosphere, but in the story it’s a mysterious heaven-like place where specially chosen cats go to be reborn. Most of the musical numbers in the show sing the praises of one or two particular cats who are candidates for this honor. You can read a more detailed synopsis here (caution: spoilers). It’s immensely helpful, but not necessary, because even if you understand the plot, Cats is weird. Weird and wonderful. “It just goes to show,” said my son as we left the theater, “if you have great music, great choreography and great effects, you can make a show about anything.”
Cats is not everyone’s saucer of cream. A tween boy and his mother who sat next to us left at intermission and didn’t come back, and two women on our other side left midway through Act II. They missed out on many of our favorite showstoppers, like “Macavity, the Mystery Cat,” “Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat” and especially, “Magical Mister Mistoffelees.” Act II also includes one of the most famous ballads in all of musical theater, “Memory.” This beautiful, heart-wrenching song is sung by Grizabella, played in this production by Tayler Harris (pictured above), who was born and raised in Portland.
The show runs two and a half hours, including a 20-minute intermission. With the great weather and extended daylight hours we’re having this week, I recommend using intermission to take a walk around Keller Fountain Park across the street from the theater. It’s a great way to stretch your legs and allow antsy kids and kids at heart to get their wiggles out.
If you go: Cats is recommended for children ages 5 and up. Booster seats are available to rent for just $1 apiece, and masks are still required. Tickets start at $29.50.
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