Saturday, August 6, 2016

Broadway Theater Review: CATS

Quentin Earl Darrington as Old Deuteronomy and Company of CATS. Photo: Matthew Murphy
A Steetlamp Sputters and Katz Makes the Memory Live Again
By Lauren Yarger
Some nonsensical poetry, amazingly realistic makeup and costumes, cat-like choreography and a dynamic score by Andrew Lloyd Webber caused a sensation when CATS opened on Broadway in in 1982.

The show gave us “Memory,” which might well be one of the most soul-stirring ballads ever written for the stage and forever nailed Betty Buckley’s star to her dressing room door. CATS  went on to have far more than nine lives: it played on Broadway for the next 18 years and has been seen in more than 30 countries. So a revival begs the question of why now? Why this cast? Why is it worth $149 a ticket?

The revival which opened last week at the Neil Simon Theatre doesn’t offer a lot of good answers to those questions, except that “to hear Webber’s music played by a Broadway orchestra” (this one under the direction of Kristen Bodgett)  is always a good answer for why a s how should be revived-- please bring back Sunset Boulevard!

The story – what there is of one, that is, -- comes from “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” by T.S. Eliot in which we are invited to enter the night-time world of cats, who all have different personalities and secret names. They all also hope they will be chosen after the Jellicle Ball for a trip the Heavyside layer to be reborn into a new life. I have heard of the Heavyside layer, but don’t ask me exactly what a Jellicle is. The opening number “Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats” makes it clear right away that this is one of those shows, like Cirque du Soleil, where we’ll probably never quite understand what is taking place, but we’ll enjoy the visible and vocal display on stage.

Trevor Nunn directs again. John Napier re-creates his junk-cluttered alley set and costumes, which are similar to the original, but possibly less detailed. So what’s new?

Well, original Choreographer Gillian Lynne was replaced by Hamilton-hot Andy Blankenbuehler. Why, exactly, is a bit puzzling – especially to Lynne who created a bit of a fuss when she was passed over for the revival’s creative team. To be honest, these 2016 Cats seem more like they are just dancing around instead of making us forget they are actors and not really cats. Without that added charm, I felt like taking a big stretch into a cat nap at intermission.

There are a few highlights, however:
  • Quentin Earl Darrington is compelling with a beautiful baritone as Old Deuteronomy, the wise old cat who gets to choose the member of the community who gets to go “up, up, up to the Heavyside layer.”
  • Jess LeProtto (Mungojerrie) and Shonica Gooden (Rumpleteazer) have a fun, smoothly synched number where the chorepgraphy finally shines and when the audience seems most engaged.
  • Georgina Pazcoguin’s graceful ballet causes kit Victoria to stand out from the caboodle.
  • Christopher Gurr entertains as Gus and gets a few laughs.
British recording sensation Leona Lewis (“Bleeding Love”) plays the role Buckley made famous: Grizabella, the Glamour cat, a feline star who has fallen on hard times as an alley cat. She sings well and does justice to “Memory,” (though every nerve in my body didn’t tingle like when Buckley sings it). Lewis doesn’t have the acting skills for Broadway, however. She seems awkward and uncertain – which Grizabella should be, but we sense it’s more the actress than the cat.

The best thing in this revival is the Katz. No, that’s not a typo. Lighting Director Natasha Katz, that is. Lighting throughout the two-plus hours is exquisite – some of the best I have seen on stage recently. Every otherwise humdrum minute of this show is the cat’s meow because of her varied and skilled use of lighting.

The stage is animated by cat eyes glowing in the dark, hues of different color indicating mood, sprays of light introducing new cats, a moon shining down over the action, a mystical rocket jet beneath a flying tire (Projection Design is b Brad Peterson) Some lights create action, as do the actors, when they make their way into the house. Katz’s master work here is purrfectly illuminating.

Watch CATS play on the stage at the Neil Simon, 250 West 52nd St. NYC. Performances are Monday, Tuesday, Thursday at 7 pm; Wednesday at 2 and 7:30 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 1:30 and 7 pm. Tickets are $59 - $149: catsthemusical.com/broadway877-250-2929.

Additional credits:
Associate Choreography by Chrissie Cartwright, Orchestrations by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Davd Cullen, Sound Design by Mick Potter.

Full cast:
Leona Lewis…. Grizabella
Giuseppe Bausilio ....  Carbucketty
Quentin Earl Darrington ....  Old Deuteronomy
Jeremy Davis ....  Skimbleshanks
Kim Faure ....  Demeter
Sara Jean Ford ....  Jellylorum
Lili Froehlich ....  Electra
Daniel Gaymon ....  Macavity
Shonica Gooden ....  Rumpleteazer
Christopher Gurr ....  Gus/Bustopher Jones
Tyler Hanes ....  Rum Tum Tugger
Andy Jones ....  Munkustrap
Kolton Krouse ....  Tumblebrutus
Eloise Kropp ....  Jennyanydots / Gumbie
Jess LeProtto ....  Mungojerrie
Georgina Pazcoguin ....  Victoria
Emily Pynenburg ....  Cassandra
Ariana Rosario ....  Sillabub
Ahmad Simmons ....  Alonzo
Christine Cornish Smith…. Bombalurina
Corey Snide ....  Coricopat
Emily Tate ....  Tantomile
Ricky Ubeda ....  Mistoffelees
Sharrod Williams ....  Pouncival
Richard Todd Adams Aaron Albano Callan Bergmann Claire Camp Francesca Granell Jessica Hendy Harris Milgrim Madison Mitchell Nathan Patrick Morgan and Megan Ort…. Ensemble

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- No content notes, but some very tight costumes reveal what is underneath.


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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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