Cats the Musical at the Kennedy Center

Cats at the Kennedy Center. Courtesy of Christopher Vitale

By Christopher Vitale

DC Nite Out—a feature of the Office of Campus Activities offering free vent opportunities for Catholic University students—organized an occasion for twenty-two students to see a production of the Broadway hit Cats on October 3rd. Students who were fortunate enough to secure one of the limited tickets headed to the Kennedy Center for a memorable night enjoying the work of Cats composer Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Interested students requested tickets online on a first-come-first-served basis. After picking up tickets from the Pryzbyla Center, they were free to arrive and depart from the Kennedy Center on their own. 

Lloyd Webber drew his inspiration for Cats from T.S. Eliot’s collection of short poems entitled Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. Eliot was an American-British poet and playwright prominent in the early to mid twentieth century. He penned the poems throughout the 1930’s before having them published as a collected body in 1939.

Lloyd Webber harnessed this unusual poetic work and began composing music for it in 1977, employing the words as lyrics. Over the following three years, he reorganized the poems and his music into a full-scale musical. The completed show debuted in 1981 at the New London Theatre in England’s West End before making its way to America with a Broadway opening in 1982 at the Winter Garden Theatre. 

Since then, it has flourished into one of the most commercially and critically successful musicals in history. It originally ran in the West End for 21 years and on Broadway for 18 and was crowned as the longest-running musical in both locations for many years. Only The Phantom of the Opera—another Lloyd Webber phenomenon— was able to dethrone Cats as the longest-running Broadway musical in 2006.

Lloyd Webber is credited with pioneering a new form of musical through Cats—one that attempts to capture the audience in a more spectacular manner than any show had ever done before. This “megamusical” genre introduced by Cats relies heavily on sensory saturation through innovative performance technology, elaborate and costume design, grand company numbers, powerful orchestration, and impressive choreography. 

Cats is known for its bizarre performance qualities and dazzling songs, the most beloved of these being “Memory” sung by the character Grizabella. Thursday’s talented cast featured Keri Rene Fuller who assumed the role of Grizabella and delivered a powerful performance of the signature number.

The production was held in the Opera House of the Kennedy Center—the foremost performing arts venue in the Washington area. The theater—at nearly full capacity—was bustling with excited Cats fans eager to become enveloped in its quirky magic. Among these were Catholic University students Isabella Ramon and Julia Vitale.

“I’ve never been able to see a professional production before, so I’m really thankful that CUA has provided an opportunity to experience something that I’d normally be unable to experience,” said Ramon.

“I grew up watching the filmed stage production of Cats all the time because of my weird sister, so seeing it performed live was very exciting and nostalgic,” added Vitale. This production was part of the Cats North American Tour and ran at the Kennedy Center through October 6th. It is now traveling to various other cities and will retire in South Carolina in June 2020. A new motion picture adaptation directed by Tom Hooper and executive produced by Steven Spielberg is slated for release in theaters on December 20th.

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