The fantastic felines of Cats prowl Boulder’s Dinner Theatre

Gary Zeidner | Boulder Weekly

Do parents still teach their children to “respect your elders,” or has that onetime de rigueur parental mandate gone the way of the dodo, cassette tapes and sex without the specter of AIDS? Judging from reality television and my last 23-year-old girlfriend, I’m going to assume that showing deference to those older than you is neither preached by harried parents nor practiced by many young whippersnappers today. If it were, anyone below the age of 34 would be required to show proper veneration for Boulder’s Dinner Theatre.

That’s right; Boulder’s Dinner Theatre is enjoying its 34th season, which means that BDT has bested the one and only Lord Jesus Christ in terms of corporeal longevity on this big, blue, mostly-water covered rock we call Earth. (That is, of course, assuming you go by the widely accepted belief that Jesus died when he was 33 and was not, in fact, imaginary.) Way to go, Boulder’s Dinner Theatre! BDT! BDT! BDT!

You know what ultrafamous Broadway musical is nearly the same age as Jesus and Boulder’s Dinner Theatre? Cats. After its debut in 1981, Cats quickly became one of the most popular Broadway productions in modern memory. It is the second longest-running show in the history of the Great White Way, behind Phantom — which, coincidentally enough, Boulder’s Dinner Theatre will be putting on in November — and in front of Les Miserables.

Despite its enormous popularity, Cats often divides critics and audiences alike. While many see it as the most entertaining example of musical theatre on four (OK, two) legs, others find its melodies obvious, its structure elementary and its resolution cloying.

Obviously, if you’d rather be spayed or neutered than sit through another round of “Memories,” then by all means pass this Dutchie on the lefthand side.

If, however, you’re one of the legions who longs to hear T.S. Eliot’s verses come to life in the form of dazzlingly costumed, immaculately made-up actors dancing and prancing around the stage as they relate a universal story about love and acceptance, then get your tickets now, because Boulder’s Dinner Theatre does Cats to the nines.

Having seen Cats numerous times over the years, I wondered what more I could take away from such well-worn material. To be honest, I was a bit worried that I might have grown bored with Rum Tum Tugger, Skimbleshanks, Grizabella and the rest, but I put my faith in Boulder’s Dinner Theatre. After all, they’ve never let me down in the past, and, sure enough, they wowed me again.

Boulder’s Dinner Theatre hits all the (forgive me) high notes of Cats without seeming to need to try. The choreography fits vast amounts of movement into a relatively small space without risking either actor or audience life or limb. The tap number is tap-tastic. The jokey segments get big laughs. And the odd bits of sentiment — particularly the heartbreaking story of Gus (aka Asparagus), the broken-down theater cat — are truly affecting.

Still, it was the little moments crafted by cast and crew that kept Cats fresh for me. During intermission, Old Deuteronomy sat atop his throne silently flicking his tail and mooning at the Moon. Later, while upstage was filled with Bast’s minions leaping and lapping, a lone cat crouched quietly behind them in the husk of some discarded appliance, watching and waiting.

At this point, Cats is a theatrical known quantity.

Face it, you’d have to insert an originally scripted segment in the middle styled after Nunsense A-Men! and call it Dogs to inspire any sort of double takes from the crowd. Familiarity, though, doesn’t always breed contempt, and I’m sure that many folks will flock to BDT to take in their second or third performance of Cats. And if you’re one of the few who has never seen the show before, you won’t do any better than the BDT version.