"Cats" Lives Again on Broadway

"Cats" Lives Again on Broadway

It’s no secret that I’m a dog person, but when a friend invited me to see the recent revival of "Cats," I wasn’t going to say No. Somehow I had never seen any production of this musical before and the only song I was familiar with was “Memory.” I was genuinely curious to see for myself why this show has remained so popular over the past three decades. (Also, I was super excited to see Leona Lewis as Grizabella.)

The crazy-talented ensemble of "Cats" (©Matthew Murphy)

“What’s a jellicle cat?”

The cats onstage ask this more than several times during “Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats,” though in a manner that mocks anyone who dare ask that question. Well… I asked that question. As I sat there in the dark, I asked myself what a jellicle cat is and what it is they do and can. They can sing and dance, that's for sure. Sing and dance very, very well to songs that are musical adaptations of poems by T.S. Eliot from his “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.” The cast of characters also includes cats from some of Eliot’s unpublished works, like Grizabella the Glamor Cat.

“Memory,” Grizabella’s big number, is not verbatim one of Eliot’s poems unlike most of the other songs from the show—even though it was still inspired by Eliot's work—but an original song written by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber (the composer of “Cats”) and Trevor Nunn (the director of the original West End and Broadway productions of “Cats,” as well as the director of this current revival). It’s sad that the other cats are so mean to her when, like them, she just wants to be selected by Old Deuteronomy to start a new life at Heaviside Layer.

(Even though I didn’t know the plot of “Cats” beforehand, it wasn’t that hard to figure out what Heaviside Layer was. I won’t spoil that for anyone, but it made me ask myself why the younger cats would want to go there in the first place.)

The choreography is purr-fect. (©Matthew Murphy)

My ignorance of the plot did not distract me from what I sincerely enjoyed about the show. From the first bars of the overture, I smiled at the familiarity of Webber’s music. There’s something about his scores that are so… him. “Cats” has a very 80s vibe, what with the style of music and the snazzy leotards the cats wear. I felt like I was watching a live-action workout video with dozens of strong dancers working as one to create something motivating. I love dance-heavy shows and “Cats” did not disappoint—what joyful choreography!

As I mentioned earlier, I was pumped to see Leona Lewis perform in person. Though Grizabella is not on stage for a majority of the show, her presence is powerful and Lewis’ voice is perfect for “Memory.” Musical theater power ballads are meant to give the audience intimate access to the characters, and as Lewis sang, I had chills. That was a Moment. And years from now when I tell folks about the first time I saw “Cats,” I can say that I witnessed something truly special.

Leona Lewis as Grizabella (©Matthew Murphy)

So… what’s a jellicle cat? I still don't quite know, though that doesn't really matter. But what I do know is that I am grateful I had the chance to finally see this show that is beloved by so many.

"Cats," the continuing cultural phenomenon, lives again at the Neil Simon Theatre on West 52nd St.

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