My favorite college English professor managed to get through his Harvard doctorate without having read “Hamlet.” He had no particular prejudice against Shakespeare. He simply noticed at some point that he had missed reading the play, and after that it became a kind of game for him.
A confessed theater maven, I had nevertheless managed so far to avoid “Cats.” In my own case, alas, there is an element of prejudice against British musical theater. This is an American art form, say I, and we do it best. I think of myself as a patriot.
“Cats,” presented by the KidzAct program of the Naples Players, did nothing to disabuse me of my bias. The music is tedious and forgettable. The plot is nonexistent, which might be forgivable if there were at least something to relieve the repetitiveness of the structure, such as it is. But no, this is a long evening consisting of one after another performer, each playing a cat with a peculiar name, telling us about his prowess at something-or-other. The play manages to be both trivial and pretentious — there’s hardly a laugh all night.
There are moments. A particularly moving one comes at the end of the first act when the song “Memory” is first introduced in a shortened form. A wonderful young vocal performer named Mary Mitchell gave a gripping performance as the faded doyenne Grizabella. In that song and that performance there was a gripping element of emotion and character that was recognizably, well, human.
The accomplishment of the presenters and the performers is undeniable. The choreography and direction by Dawn Labrecht Fornara were outstanding. “Cats” is essentially a dance show, and the dancing, in the big numbers, the solos and throughout was remarkable and impressively athletic. The sheer amount of work that must have gone into this production — 60 performers, a dozen big dance numbers, all those words, all those steps — is a marvel.
The young cast brought breathtaking enthusiasm and energy to the performances. These kids could perform the delinquent tax listings and it would be entertaining. They obviously love what they are doing, and the Naples Players deserves heartfelt thanks from the community for providing this opportunity to them and this service to us.