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Concert Reviews:
Refreshed "Cats" is near purr-fect at the Fisher Theatre

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

Posted: Wednesday, September 4, 2019

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After 38 years, "Cats" could easily be the Grizabella of musical theater -- worn out and frayed around the edges, sucking up the fumes of the "Hamiltons" and "Hadestowns" now lighting up the Broadway stage.

But some judicious creative grooming done three years ago has put the magic back in the Jellicle moonlight.

The overhaul -- notably choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler's additions to Gillian Lynne's original work -- is most evident for repeat visitors of the Tony Award-winning production. But even a casual "Cats" fan can't help but notice the sense of crisp renewal in the current version -- at the Fisher Theatre through Sept. 15 -- an energy that hearkens back to when it took the world by storm back in the early 80s. The key elements, including Andrew Lloyd Webber's score, remain familiar, but Blankenbuehler has added touches of contemporary jazz, hip-hop and tap, giving the felines' junkyard domain a hip, leaner flavor that suits it well.

The changes come through primarily in the individual dance spectaculars of the Rum Tum Tigger (McGee Maddox), Bustopher Jones (Timothy Gulan), Macavity (Tyler John Logan), Mungojerrie and Rumelteazer (Tony D'Alelio and Rose Iannaccone), and "The Old Gumbie Cat's" vaudeville schtick. Best of all -- and not surprisingly -- is "Magical Mister Mistoffelees," an even more high-octane romp now, with Tion Gaston (through Sept. 8) nailing every move up to and including the iconic, jaw-dropping "Conjuring Turn" of two dozen consecutive fouettes en tournant pirouettes. And Gulan, doubling up as Asparagus, is a subtle comic delight in "Gus the Theater Cat."

Any production of "Cats," of course, is as good as its "Memory," and Keri Rene Fuller as Grizabella brings the house down with both renditions of the song, as well as a physical presence, particularly during the first act, that projects the ostracized elder's despair over her declining stature even to the top rows.

The latest "Cats" also manages to inject a bit more fun into the stilted trippiness of T.S. Eliot's "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats" poems, and the production -- not particularly long in the first place -- flies by, with only the extended "Song of the Jellicles and the Jellicle Ball" wearing out its welcome. It's still most assuredly a grand dame, but "Cats" clearly has a few more lives left in its refreshed skin.

"Cats" runs through Sept. 15 at the Fisher Theatre, 3011 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit. Tickets are $35 and up at 313-872-1000 or broadwayindetroit.com

Web Site: www.broadwayindetroit.com

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