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The Tentacle


March 26, 2009

REVIEW: "Cats" and Eliot

Roy Meachum

The day Thomas Stearns Eliot died my boss at WTOP made a visit to my office. Lloyd Dennis told me to sit down and then informed me about the great man's passing. He was right. I was 35 and devastated although I never met Mr. Eliot.

 

The Missouri-born Nobel laureate did not always exist in my life; he was introduced in an American Forces network broadcast studio in the 17th century annex to the 810 A.D. German castle where I lived for several years. I don't remember the name of the corporal who introduced him to me. I drag up his face: round cheeks, glasses and flabby frame. He was very emotive about Mr. Eliot's, poetry, especially "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock."

 

The words have little gristle on them.

 

"Let us go then, you and I,

When the evening is spread out against the sky,

Like a patient etherized upon the table."

 

Where does the poet want to take the reader?

 

"Streets that follow like a tedious argument

Of insidious intent…"

 

Every young man or woman interested in language and how it strikes the ear must be mesmerized, as I was. Mr. Eliot provided torrents of words and sheaves of sounds. And that's only one work; there were hundreds of others, including "Wasteland," probably his most famous and cited as the chief contributing element for his Nobel Prize.

 

But "Cats" did not run nearly 20 years, in both New York and London, because of such exotic and erudite phrases. The musical appeared destined to never close; you could imagine the show moving into its own theatre built with its future profits.

 

Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber's fans attribute the success to his music. Listening Tuesday night at the Hippodrome when Baltimore again hosted "Cats," I found the score repetitive. I don't mean the same sounds repeated, but, closing the eyes, it was frequently difficult to discern one piece from another. There were exceptions: "Memories," of course.

 

In the third time I saw the show, I wondered how various directors continue to find such talent; the dancers and singers are not turned out by a cookie cutter. Their combined mystiques have managed, in all three instances, to send the audiences into the nights with a satisfied buzzing. I am not comparing individual voices or dancing but the overall effect. But be warned: there is a strong taste of esoteric, which the costumes and sets communicate to the eyes.

 

My conclusion points to the original director and choreographer. Trevor Nunn and Gillian Lee are very safe in the assured hands of Richard Stafford who recreated their mastery, again not in each detail. In the three productions I saw the ambiance and artistry hold both steady and exciting.

 

"Cats" concludes this run at Baltimore's Hippodrome with two performances on Sunday. It is still an exciting and satisfying show.

 



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