Cats is fun. At one time, the longest- running show on Broadway, the show had a veneer of pseudo-seriousness. The poems of T.S. Eliot, the million-dollar renovation to the Winter Garden Theatre so that Grizabella could rise up, literally, through the roof of the theatre to (cat) heaven, and the unusual costumes and, well, characters, walled off the simple pleasures of this enduring Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. The actors did not so much play cats as they give each cat-character a unique humanity.
All of this has been splendidly recreated by a creative team comprised of the original director (Trevor Nunn) and scenic/costume director (John Napier) joined now by choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler (“Hamilton”) and lighting designer Natasha Katz.
British singer/songwriter Leona Lewis has the coveted Grizabella role and sings the, well, memorable, “Memory.” A shrewd move by producers to appeal to millennials, Ms. Lewis gives a bold performance, but won’t make you forget the sympathetic rendering given the song by Betty Buckley in the original and, as one of her superb cast replacements, Laurie Beechman. That aside, the cast is terrific – funny, athletic and nimble – all with fine voices.
Along the way, we are introduced to a yard full of cats and every cat has a story (rooted in T.S. Eliot’s poems). There is Gus, the theater cat (Christopher Gurr), who tells of a life in the theatre. Rum Tum Tugger (a prowling Tyler Hanes) “is a curious cat,” always on the wrong side of what is expected. On leave from the NYC ballet, Georgina Pazcoguin dazzles as Victoria, the white cat. But it’s Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer (played by Jess LeProtto and Kolton Krouse) who are the most entertaining as they forever get in trouble with the family with which they live.
This feels more like a dance show than the original although most – but not all – of the numbers are little changed. Yet, there is a swagger and lightness not present in the 1982 production. The other major change is the theatre setting. With its semi-circular seating, the junkyard surrounded you more at the Winter Garden, while here you view a wide stage. That and the modernized lighting, add to the more contemporary feel.
Music to Your Ears
What has not changed is the music. And time has been very good to it. Besides “Memory,” “The Naming of Cats,” “The Jellicle Ball,” “Macavity” and “Mr. Mistoffolees,” while all different, are amusing and entertaining. The only downside is the much smaller orchestra where programmed keyboards have replaced strings and other acoustic instruments. One has to respect Andrew Lloyd Webber, who now has three hit shows on Broadway as this Cats revival joins his long-running Phantom of the Opera and the new School of Rock.
I first took my daughter to the original production when she was 9 years old. She enjoyed it thoroughly as I think your sons and daughters will today.
Recommended for ages 8 and up.
George A. Wachtel is president of Audience Research & Analysis, a New York City-based market research firm specializing in arts and entertainment.