CATS TALK BACK
nytheatre.com review by Chad Gracia
In Cats Talk Back, former (faux) cast members from
Broadway’s longest running musical reunite on a panel moderated
by the New York Times critic Jesse McKinley (played by
New York Times critic Jesse McKinley). Over the course of
the hour-long discussion, we gain a glimpse into the lives of
five former felines.
August 15, 2003
What follows is a smart, sassy and surprisingly funny hour of theater. There’s esoteric debate on the meanings of T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats (upon which Cats was based), a PETA protest, attacks by contemptuous Les Miz fans, cramped paw syndrome, and many more surprises. One of the best is a "recreation" of "Cats Kill," a number in which the cats devour a baby they find in their alley (the producers cut the song, we are told, compromising "Sir Andy’s" vision of a much darker and complex piece). It alone is worth the price of admission.
We meet an aging diva, an ing�nue, and a cat who just can’t adjust to life offstage. Brad Heberlee brings a zany Pythonesque physicality to his cat of questionable sexuality. And Frank Liotti plays an endearing Alpha Cat who initiates new female cast members into the troupe with a full body lick-down. An insightful script and sensitive acting rescues most of these characters from two dimensionality. Solid choreography (Nathaniel Nicco-Annan) and lighting design (Thomas Dunn) whisk us off to Broadway for a few flashbacks.
Cats Talk Back is a more than a string of puns and silly routines—it contains a few truly touching moments. In the Q&A session, an angry East Village intellectual rises from the audience to accuse the cats of selling out. Instead of a wisecrack response, he is silenced (along with the rest of us) when the cats defend their pride with earnest and heartfelt speeches.
The script could use a little tweaking to take full advantage of the cats’ interrelationships, and a reunion at the end feels under-explored. But all in all, I thoroughly enjoyed Cats Talk Back, laughing in the theatre and while writing this review. Writer-director Bess Wohl gives us not just a gimmick, but a witty and weird glimpse into the troubled lives of five out-of-work cats.