Cats is pure spectacle, from the first moments of the light show with the flying saucer gizmo that lifts off for parts unknown, to the last moments when Grizabella meets her final reward. It is shimmering, leaping, booty shaking spectacle. There should be a Tony for the ensemble of dancers in this production (original choreography by Gillian Lynne has been spiffed up and augmented by Andy Blankenbuehler who choreographed Hamilton). They ARE the production.
Cats is a set of musical numbers loosely draped over T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. And like Phantom of the Opera (was that a Phantom theme I heard?) Webber has somehow found the knack for musical themes that will not leave you alone. You leave the theatre and spend the next few days humming (or hearing) the tunes. Not all of them. "Memory" of course is the iconic number, closely followed by Jellicle Cats. And that is that.
I looked up Jellicle – it is a made up term. And these made up cats are meeting for a made up Jellicle Ball while the city around them sleeps. The thread of a plot involves the return of Old Deuteronomy (Quentin Earl Darrington) - a wise old gent who has returned to bestow his blessing on the flock and name the cat who will ascend to the “Heaviside Layer”. This event, when it arrives is as inexplicable as the rest of the story and another visual treat.
Other trickles of a story include the arrival of Grizabella (Leona Lewis) who creeps about the stage, austensibly playing a stray cat in search of shelter and burdened by too much loneliness and too little meat. Ms. Lewis herself, however, appears uncertain of what she should do onstage. An actor she is not. A mighty singer she is. She knows how to stand in one place and deliver the goods, but watching her move in character is disappointing. We only see her feeling relaxed at the curtain call where she scampers and laughs with her colleagues.
There is a lot of the old English Music Hall here as characters are introduced, not for their contribution to the story, but for their ability to entertain and provide another glorious dance number. Rum Tum Tugger (Tyler Hanes) and Mister Mistoffelees (Ricky Ubeda) give everyone a workout, and Mr. Ubeda seems to be operating on his very own battery pack. Gus (short for Asparagus), the theater cat, is a sweet sentimental creation in the person of Christopher Gurr. It will bring a tear to the eye of any theatre person – spoiler alert.
There are other numbers (a lot of other numbers) that are executed with precision and exuberance (and paw bumping?? What IS that?). And after a bit, all these impeccably costumed folks (with the exception of Georgina Pascoquin all in white and mesmerizing) begin to blend together in a tabby tuffet that becomes too much of a good thing. Eventually you get the urge to push yourself away from the table, even at the risk of disappointing this inexhaustible and generous cast of dancers.
The real drama on my end was happening in the row behind me. At intermission the woman at the back of me started talking strong and loud in her Mother Voice. Emily, from the sound of it a very young person was acting out. And Grammy was having a hard time handling it. "Emily," the mother said, "tomorrow I am going to take you to a doctor who handles children who are disrespectful to adults. This behavior is unacceptable. No you cannot have another waffle. You have had three already. And you had two pieces of peanut butter bread. Put Grammy on." Pause. "This is unacceptable. Emily is not to have another waffle! She can have sun chips or a granola bar or raisins. I told you she was over tired. You tell her this is unacceptable, and that if she does not get it together she will not go to camp tomorrow. She can go to her room if she does not want these choices and cry herself to sleep. And tomorrow she will not go to camp. Emily will stay in her room all day all by herself with nothing to do because I will take away all her toys!!! You tell her that. And if she needs to call me back, she has 5 minutes because the show is starting." Pause. "Phenominal. It's Phenominal. Bye."
High praise indeed. And of course Mom and the older daughter led the standing ovation. I wonder how Emily fared.
In closing here is a gift for you. They don't come much better than this.
The Naming Of Cats by T. S. Eliot
The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn't just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I'm as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
First of all, there's the name that the family use daily,
Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo or James,
Such as Victor or Jonathan, George or Bill Bailey--
All of them sensible everyday names.
There are fancier names if you think they sound sweeter,
Some for the gentlemen, some for the dames:
Such as Plato, Admetus, Electra, Demeter--
But all of them sensible everyday names.
But I tell you, a cat needs a name that's particular,
A name that's peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,
Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?
Of names of this kind, I can give you a quorum,
Such as Munkustrap, Quaxo, or Coricopat,
Such as Bombalurina, or else Jellylorum-
Names that never belong to more than one cat.
But above and beyond there's still one name left over,
And that is the name that you never will guess;
The name that no human research can discover--
But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.
When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.
(Photo by Matthew Murphy)
"The overriding spirit of the revival appears to be the familiar motto: Don’t mess with success... This 'Cats' is fundamentally the 'Cats' you knew and loved when you were first bit by the musical-theater bug. Or it’s the “Cats” you knew and snickered at when you first encountered it."
Charles Isherwood for New York Times
"Watching the lively yet enervating revival staged by Trevor Nunn, who directed the original 34 years ago, you can’t help but wonder how its first run lasted 18 years. Plotless, repetitive, nonsensical, the ’80s relic quickly turns tiresome enough to make you wish for a catnap. So much energy spent, so little impact."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"This was a lost opportunity. Rather than lamely re-creating the original (with some punchier added choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler), why not orchestrate the score for acoustic instruments, redo the costumes and dances, and find fresh drama underneath the tacky, dated pageantry? Instead we get a taxidermied pet. If there is heart to the piece, it’s Grizabella, the faded, outcast 'glamour cat.' British crooner Leona Lewis has a big, yearning voice, but even her (heavily amplified) yowling of 'Memory' can’t make the past worth revisiting."
David Cote for Time Out New York
"The theatrical evolutions since 1982 make 'Cats' seem quaint and unsubstantial. It's really not a cohesive show, more a revue with a collection of bombastic rock songs connected by mangy fur."
Mark Kennedy for Associated Press
"Although it remains to be seen whether this revival will live up to the original production's tagline of "Now and Forever," enough time has passed for a new generation of theatergoers to embrace the show, while those who saw the original (and liked it) will probably want to return for a blast of nostalgia. And with the dramatic upturn in tourists to the Big Apple in recent years, there's no reason to think that this Cats won't be purring on Broadway for a very long time."
Frank Scheck for Hollywood Reporter
"As it was in the early days of this enduring musical, and still is, the genius of the show is in the dancing. At this early stage of the game, before the inevitable injuries and burnouts, the dancers are in perfectly splendid form. Quentin Earl Darrington has great authority as Old Deuteronomy, while Daniel Gaymon’s athletic Macavity, Andy Huntington Jones’ regal Munkustrap, and all the other members of the Jellicle tribe are flying high — now and forever."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety
External links to full reviews from popular press...