They’re back! Those feline denizens of the junkyard have once again invaded the Broadway stage in a revival of the musical CATS. The production has a number of very positive attributes. The sets by John Napier, who conceived the design in the show’s initial incarnation, are playful and imaginative. The costumes, also by Napier, are colorful, whimsical and mischievous. Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography is spirited, covering all styles of dance. The score, with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and T.S. Eliot, is tuneful even if it is a tad redundant. However, no matter how you characterize the show it is still a musical about…cats. Singing and dancing cats. Truthfully, I don’t know how it ran on Broadway for 18 years.
The musical is based on T. S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. The meager plot centers around the once-a-year Jellicle Ball where all the tabbys gather to await Old Deuteronomy cat choose which of them will ascend to cat heaven to be reborn into a new life. Before the gripping finale the audience is introduced to many of the pawed creatures in both song and dance. They cavort onstage and in the orchestra section of the Neil Simon Theatre.
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music is set to Eliot's verse. Together, they produce songs, which are simple, melodious and pleasing but, as I found with the original production, hard to understand. Eliot may be renowned as a poet, but his work doesn’t make him a satisfying lyricist. There is the well-known and celebrated song, “Memory,” from the show, written by Lord Webber and Director Trevor Nunn. The famed number is sung with an emotional and powerful voice by British pop star Leona Lewis, in her guise as the aged cat Grizabella.
Director Trevor Nunn, who also helmed the original 1982 production, has the cast energized as they bound up and down and across the stage. His performers are a well-synchronized and indefatigable group of actors. Every movement is fully coordinated without a paw, I mean foot, out of place. While the theatricality is there, the musical does lack a dramatic and emotional focus.
CATS, now and forever?