|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 show 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.
- 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 choreography 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/broadway; 877-250-2929.
Associate Choreography by Chrissie Cartwright, Orchestrations by Andrew Lloyd Webber and David Cullen, Sound Design by Mick Potter.
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
-- No content notes, but some very tight costumes reveal what is underneath.