Review by Emma Citron
Last week I saw the return of Andrew Lloyd Webber's long-running musical "Cats" at the Neil Simon Theatre. This "love-it-or-hate-it" show has divided audiences for years since its debut in 1982. This was my first time ever seeing a production of it and I really enjoyed it!
"Cats" has little plot, it is simply an adaptation of a book of poems by T.S.Eliot ("Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats") put to song. Each musical number centers around a different cat and their personality/significant traits. These songs are strung together through the Jellicle Ball, an event where one cat in this Jellicle tribe is chosen to ascend to the "Heaviside Layer" and come back in a brand new life. Andrew Lloyd Webber's iconic score still holds up today, especially the show's most famous standard, "Memory." Other memorable numbers were the opening "Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats," and the songs focusing on "The Rum Tum Tugger," "Mr.Mestoffelees," and "Macavity: The Mystery Cat."
Acting: This cast is HUGE, I didn't realize there were that many cats in this tribe! Definite standouts include Tyler Hanes as the Rum Tum Tugger (a "flashy tomcat"), Ricky Ubeda as Mr. Mestoffelees (a cat with magical powers), Quentin Earl Darrington as Old Deuteronomy (the aging leader of the tribe), Christopher Gurr as Gus (the old theatre cat and former actor), and Eloise Kropp as Jennyanydots (the "Gumbie" cat). British pop star Leona Lewis plays Grizabella, the faded "Glamour Cat," and while she is lacking in the acting department, her performance of the final notes of "Memory" is chilling.
The design elements of this revival are virtually identical to the original 1980s production (it has the same costume/set designer: John Napier). Upon entering the Neil Simon, the audience is "transported" to a junkyard through an immersive set that stretches out from the stage and into the audience. It is incredibly detailed with items strewn everywhere (meant to look like the audience is viewing them from a cat's perspective). At some points during the show, cast members even go out into the audience (orchestra AND mezzanine) to interact with theatergoers. The choreography by Gillian Lynne is basically the same as before, but Hamilton choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler joins the creative team to spice up and modernize some of the bigger production numbers, most notably "Mr.Mestoffelees."
Overall, "Cats" really is just a show about a stage full of singing and dancing cats, but this production is definitely worth seeing (especially to those who have never seen a production before) for the triple-threat cast, timeless score, choreography, and set. I give it 7/10 escapes! "Cats" is currently playing an open-ended run at the Neil Simon Theatre.