Sunday, July 17, 2016

Cats is Back in NYC: A Preview

Back in the early 80s I became obsessed with the musical Cats. I honestly am not sure why. As a teen in Texas I don't know if it was the connection to Betty Buckley or having loved previous Andrew Lloyd Webber shows or just because I was a theater nut...something about it grabbed me. I bought the album, I bought the books, we traveled to New York City in '84 and tried to get tickets (to no avail), but finally when I moved to NYC in '87 I saw it. And saw it. And saw it. The show that never ended was on my 'go-to' list each time Grizabella would change. 

Me obsessed in '86
Many were shocked to hear that it was coming back to Broadway in 2016 after closing 16 years earlier (though other shows have returned in less time), but I still grabbed up tickets once it was announced. My husband had never seen it (along with a dear friend who missed it too) so four of us attended a matinee just after previews started.

Well, I'm happy to report that the show that is "now & forever" is still just as good the second time around. They made some cuts and changes that keep the musical moving and just over 2 hours and 15 minutes including the intermission. I was so entertained by this fresh, young company. (I emphasis young because some of them weren't even born when it started the first time back in the 80s.) 

I was amazed how much the lyrics and certain visuals all came back to me so quickly. Gillian Lynne's signature choreographed moments are there, but Andy Blankenbuehler (of Hamilton fame) has put his own touch on the show as well.  John Napier has created a set and costumes that remind us of the original while still being new. This cast is dancing and singing their butts off and it's absolutely wonderful! I usually sit back in the theater to take it all in, but my friends love sitting down front so we were on the second row and I could see the nuances these actors bring to their feline roles. 

Napier's 70th set for Cats

My husband (who only likes shows with a 'story') really enjoyed it. (Shocked me, I must say since the storyline for Cats is such a small string of a story.) He mentioned how the score sounds very 80s and he could hear other Lloyd Webber tunes in it. (Guess his years of being with me has turned him into a theater critic.)

Intermission: Old Deuteronomy
I want to give a shout out to a few performers that stood out to me (though I really enjoyed them all). Christopher Gurr brings great acting chops to Gus the theater cat, Tyler Hanes is serving Adam Lambert as Rum Tum Tugger, Eloise Kropp is an adorable Jennyanydots (that kept my gaze many times throughout), Andy Huntington Jones has a wonderful voice for our 'narrator' Munkustrap,  Jess LeProptto & Shonica Gooden exhausted me in a good way as Mungojerrie & Rumpleteazer, Sara Jean Ford's soprano soars even in ensemble numbers as Jellylorum, Ricky Ubeda puts his own 'spin' on Mistoffelees that is sheer brilliance, and Quentin Earl Darrington has the presence and powerful vocal chops that we all want from Old Deuteronomy. I could go on and on about each performer, but I'm sure people want to hear about the big G.

Right by our feet in front of stage
I'm going to try and not write about all of the Grizabellas that have come before (and I've seen many). I totally understand Sir. Andrew wanting to bring a name into his show. I get it. (My husband loves Leona Lewis and was very excited to see her.) But I don't think it's necessary. There are tons of Broadway women that could act and sing this role. And yes, the role must be acted, it is not all about "touch me" - the role is so much more even though it's only about 15 minutes worth of stage time. I want to believe that Ms. Lewis will continue to work with an acting coach to find the heart and pain of Grizabella so that her stage presence will match her vocals. I DID see a preview after all, so perhaps that will get better in time.

With all of this said - if you loved Cats before: see it again. If you never saw it and want to be able to form an actual opinion and not jump on the "hate Cats bandwagon" - see it. If you love electrifying dancing and great music, you won't be disappointed.

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