Neil Simon Theatre
250 W. 52nd St., Manhattan, NY
A Review by Deirdre Donovan
As seen October 2, 2016
Opened July 31, 2016
Click here for production photos!
There’s no purrr-haps about it. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s iconic musical Cats is back on Broadway.
Directed by Trevor Nunn, it opened at the Neil Simon Theatre on July 31st in the midst of the summer tourist season and fry-an-egg-on-the sidewalk temperatures. But in spite of the sizzling heat, folks lined up at the box office on West 52nd Street, all hoping to get a ticket to the first-ever revival of the legendary show.
Okay, musical aficionados, you probably know the history of this landmark musical inside-out. But for those readers who might like a refresher on how it carved itself a niche into theater history, here’s the skinny on the show: Cats pounced into the Winter Garden Theatre in October 1982, ran for 7,485 performances, and kept purring away to audiences for a total of 18 years. It was, in fact, the longest running musical show on Broadway until its record was eclipsed by The Phantom of the Opera in 2006. Which, by the bye, is Lloyd Webber’s as well.
So what was its unique theatrical magic? Spectacle, spectacle, and more spectacle. It invited audience members into a feline universe where a cadre of cats strutted their mysterious stuff for two hours and change. The cast, dressed in cat costumes, sang and danced beneath an enchanted moon that played hide-and-seek with wisps of clouds. And, according to one New York critic who was there for its debut at the Winter Garden, it ushered in the age of environmental theater.
But that was then, and this is now. So how does the first-ever revival of Cats measure up on the Great White Way? In two words, just fine. The joyfulness spreading through the audience was palpable on the evening I attended. And, judging by the smiling faces of those sitting nearby me in the orchestra, Nunn’s revival is a success.
No question a top-notch creative team is on board: John Napier (Scenic & Costume Design), Natasha Katz (Lighting Design), Mick Potter (Sound Design), and Andy Blankenbuehler (his choreography is based on the original choreography by Gillian Lynne). But while the line-up of artists is impressive, what’s more remarkable is how well their individual talents harmonize into a whole on stage.
True, the plot is thin as ever (Cats is based on T.S. Eliot's "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats") and can be boiled down to a single question: Which cat will be chosen by Old Deuteronomy (Quentin Earl Darrington) to be reborn? And since I refuse to be a spoiler, you'll just have to go to the show yourself to find out the answer.
If the storyline is slight, Napier’s set fully compensates for it. A nocturnal junk heap, it’s colossal in size and has an amazing variety of amalgamated debris. And, oh yes, audience members are invited to get up close and personal with Napier’s three-dimensional stage design during intermission.
Beyond its visual spectacle, Cats is aurally exquisite. Twenty-odd songs are threaded throughout--and some will greet your ears like old friends. Who doesn’t have a place in their heart for the show’s signature melody “Memory? And as sung here by the British singer Leona Lewis (“Bleeding Love”), it has the power to raise goose flesh on your neck. Although this song is by far the show-stopper, there are many others that will stick in your mind as well. There’s the nostalgic number “Gus, The Theatre Cat,“ the edgy “Rum Tum Tugger,” and the sublime “Journey to the Heaviside Layer.” True, some songs get a whiff too jingly. Like the “Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats.” But before one can blink or say “meow,” another song will slink in with its own wit and melody.
The dancing is splendid! The leaps, bounds, somersaults, and pounces finessed by the cast are breath-taking. And just when you think you have seen every feline movement that is possible on stage, the next cat-performer will out-claw the last choreographic turn. It seems unfair to single out any one dancer, but Tyler Hanes sure does a mean-and-lean turn as the Rum Tum Tugger here. One of his predecessors in the part, Terrence Mann, was compared to Mick Jagger for his testosterone-heavy performance. Well, Hanes has that same swagger and swing.
What else is there to say? This revival is worth a visit. So, if you are planning a New York getaway in the near future, make sure you book your tickets to Cats. Nunn, along with the creative team and cast, have conjured up one purrr-fectly fine revival of the classic musical.
At the Neil Simon Theatre, 250 W. 52nd Street, Manhattan.
For tickets, phone 212-239-6200 or 800-447-7400 or visit www.telecharge.com.
Running Time: 2 hours; 15 minutes, with one intermission.
Click here for production photos!