Drat! The Cat!
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
May 11, 2005
Drat! The Cat! was seen on Broadway for a week in October 1965. There's a CD preserving the original cast (from bootleg tapes; no record company brought it into a studio)—other than that, it's gone. Until, that is, Mel Miller and the Musicals Tonight! gang got their hands on it, bringing this very odd musical comedy back to the New York stage for two weeks. It's a fascinating show to behold. In forty more years, maybe someone will bring it back again, and that will be soon enough.
Which is to suggest that Drat! The Cat! is one of Broadway's deserving failures: this show is a mess. But don't let that keep you from taking in this production, which presents it in all its unfettered weird glory: buffs of the musical theatre history, in particular, will not want to forego this wonderful and rare opportunity. You'll also get to see a very talented young man named Scott Evans in the leading role—his performance as the goofy ingratiating juvenile who is Drat! The Cat!'s leading man is as good as any on stage right now. He's got genuine star quality.
A synopsis is certainly in order. Drat! The Cat! is set in New York City during the 1890s, where a rather fearless jewel thief has been terrorizing the city's wealthiest citizens with a number of brazen robberies, stealing diamonds and such right out from under rich people's noses. Early on, Alice Van Guilder, the attractive and impetuous daughter of one of the city's leading families, confesses to us that she's the "Cat" (the burglar is so-named because she's disguised as one). It's never entirely clear why Alice has turned to crime, but it's suggested that she intends to flout her privileged background and, perhaps, that she enjoys annoying her parents' snooty friends.
Bob Purefoy, the bumbling son of the legendary Roger "Bulldog" Purefoy (who, we are told, was one of the very finest of New York's Finest), has been assigned to catch the Cat. He of course does not know that Alice is the burglar; so it's just dumb luck that he is sent to attend a party at the Van Guilders' home, where he will hunt, incognito, for his prey. When Alice discovers what Bob is up to, she craftily cozies up to him and offers to assist him (in a song called "Holmes and Watson"), but she instead manipulates poor dumb Bob and by the end of Act One—the Cat having struck once again at the Van Guilders' soiree—she has framed Bob for the crime and taken him hostage in the cellar.
In the second act, Alice is forced by her father to free Bob and, to keep herself out of prison, agrees to escape to the country with Bob. (Did I mention that Bob fell head-over-heels in love with Alice as soon as he laid eyes on her? Sorry.) Bob then contrives, in very convoluted fashion, to take the rap for Alice's crimes and eventually have her released into his custody in a "happy ending" set in a courtroom.
Everything I've read about Drat! The Cat! suggests that book-writer/lyricist Ira Levin and composer Milton Schafer were going for a parody of 19th century cops & robbers melodrama here. I don't know if director Thomas Mills has layered something onto their composition (I doubt it), but the piece sure doesn't feel like parody, or melodrama either: instead it feels like a very uncomfortable hybrid of satirical social criticism with screwball romantic comedy—sort of like what might have happened if Bertolt Brecht had written Bringing Up Baby.
The songs, interestingly, are the strongest component of the work. There's one you've heard before, probably: "She Touched Me," which became famous after Barbra Streisand recorded it. Here, it's a sweetly naive confession of love at first sight, put over with delightfully un-self-conscious enthusiasm by Evans. He has another charming number about falling in love, "She's Roses," sung with Celia Tackaberry as his mom. Also terrific are a couple of choral numbers, "Today is a Day for a Band to Play" and "A Pox Upon the Traitor's Brow," both sung by members of the police force before and after Bob has been captured for his alleged crimes. Levin's lyrics here are clever and Schafer's music is catchy.
Besides Evans and Tackaberry, this production boasts some other fine talent, including Lew Lloyd, who looks and behaves like a cross between Fatty Arbuckle and Stubby Kaye, which turns out to be just perfect for Police Superintendent Pincer; Nick Locilento as his accomplice, Mallet; Steve Brady as Bob's father "Bulldog" Purefoy; and Verna Pierce as Alice's excitable mother. The male chorus shines here as well: Richard Barth, Ryan Dunkin, Cooper Grodin, Erik McEwen, and Jake Speck harmonize admirably.
All in all, it's a completely respectable rendition of a show that will never be revived anywhere else anytime soon: I love Musicals Tonight! precisely for shows like this, that have almost nothing but curiosity value going for them. It's fun and enlightening to get a gander at Drat! The Cat!, especially under these modest circumstances (no production values per se and with the actors still "on book"). I can't wait to see what Miller digs up for us to enjoy next season.