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‘Cats’ shows its strength on stage

The North American tour company of “Cats.” (Courtesy of Matthew Murphy)

“Cats” is, to put it simply, iconic.

It’s the type of musical that challenges performers.

The songs resonate with generations of fans.

Let’s not forget about the legendary choreography — which has been revamped for the current national tour of the Tony Award-winning musical.

On opening night at Popejoy Hall on Thursday, “Cats” roared.

The musical will be staged five more times at Popejoy — one Friday, May 17 and two shows both Saturday, May 18 and Sunday, May 19.

Opening with “Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats,” the company set the entire mood with the piece.

Slinking and swaying across the stage during the number, anticipation built for the piece.

There were moments members of the company strutted down the aisles of Popejoy, making it an immersive treat.

“Cats” tells the story of a tribe of cats called the Jellicles and the night they make what is known as the “Jellicle choice” and decide which cat will ascend to the Heaviside Layer and come back to a new life.

The Tony Award-winning — and long running — musical is composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber and based on T.S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.”

It has been presented in over 30 countries, has been translated into 15 languages, and has been seen by more than 73 million people worldwide.

Originally directed by Trevor Nunn with choreography and associate direction by Gillian Lynne, scenic and costume design by John Napier, lighting design by David Hersey, and sound design by Abe Jacob, the musical opened in the West End in 1981. The musical debuted on Broadway in 1982 where it won seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Both the original London and Broadway cast recordings won Grammy Awards for Best Cast Album.

The original Broadway production opened in 1982 at Broadway’s Winter Garden Theatre, where it ran for 7,485 performances and 18 years.

“Cats” was originally produced on Broadway by Cameron Mackintosh, The Really Useful Company Limited, David Geffen, and The Shubert Organization.

It returned to Broadway in 2016 in a stunning revival at the Neil Simon Theatre. Preview performances began Thursday, July 14, 2016, and officially opened on Sunday, July 31, 2016.

“Cats” played its final performance on Saturday, December 30, 2017, after 16 previews and 593 regular performances.

There were plenty of moments of pure excitement during Thursday night’s show.

One of them was Rum Tum Tugger, played by McGee Maddox, who strutted across the stage like a rock star.

The company added some grit to “The Rum Tum Tugger.”

Not to be forgotten is Skimbleshanks, played by Ethan Saviet, who also commanded the stage during his number with the company in the second act.

And then there’s Keri René Fuller who plays Grizabella. In the musical Grizabella is the outcast, who is looking to fit in. She also gets to perform the most iconic song from the musical, “Memory.”

Fuller’s range of emotions throughout the entire musical were poignant.

The entire cast was strong and solid.

Each member should be commended for putting their stamp on such an iconic body of work, all the while, making it feel fresh.

“Cats” runs for five more performances and Popejoy.

Even if you’ve seen it before, this reinvention pulls out all the stops and helps make some new memories.

WHEN:  7:30 p.m. Friday, May 17; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, May 18 and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday, May 19
WHERE: Popejoy Hall, University of New Mexico campus
HOW MUCH: $50.50-$103, plus fees at, UNM Bookstore ticket office, UNM ticket office at Dreamstyle Arena, by phone at 925-5858 or 877-664-8661

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