Cats on Broadway: One for the “Memory” BookDecember 7, 2016 - by Meryl Pearlstein
The musical Cats is back and all kinds of iconic Andrew Lloyd Webber mastery has once again pounced onto Broadway. This time it’s at the Neil Simon Theatre, where a vibrant revival has introduced a new generation (or two) to T.S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.”
Photo by Matthew Murphy
Since the hit musical Cats burst back onto the Great White Way on July 31st, it has welcomed countless fans—from veterans who became enamored by the feline characters two or three decades ago, to kids who arrive dressed in cat costumes—and all of whom get caught up in the music and movements that take off the moment the Jellicle Cats appear in their colorful costumes.
“Whether you’ve seen the show just once in the past or multiple times now, you’ll always come away with something different. It’s not exactly your mother’s Cats, but in a large way, it really is,” says Mamie Parris, who stepped into the show-stopping role of Grizabella on October 17th—eight days after British pop singer Leona Lewis played her final performance.
Grizabella, who is described by the others as a torn and tattered shadow of her former self—“You’d really have thought she’d ought to be dead/And who’d have ever supposed that that/Was Grizabella the Glamour Cat...”—is best known for the Act II ballad “Memory,” the show’s most famous song. Parris makes it her own in a version that is at once both fresh and soulful.
As for the show’s opening, it literally creeps up on you before taking off. Leaping across the stage in delicious feline frenzy, the Jellicles are the first to be physically introduced, but they are only part of a cat community that is assembling for this one night a year when the worthiest of them is selected to be reborn and ascend to the Heaviside layer.
Will it be the devilish Macavity? (Probably not: Macavity’s not there...!) Possibly the engagingly magical Mister Mistoffelees will take the honors...or perhaps the curious and sparkling Rum Tum Tugger? The honor (minor spoiler alert) is up for grabs until the end.
As the show unfolds, you can feel the excitement throughout the audience as the kitty cast slithers through the aisles, catching the eyes of one entranced child after another—or a captivated parent, for that matter.
“This is a show that brings joy and delight every night,” notes Parris. “Everyone shares the energy of the ensemble of exceptionally talented dancers, actors, and singers who move in unity towards that final moment.”
(For the record, Parris’s Broadway credits include On the Twentieth Century, Ragtime, 110 in the Shade and The Drowsy Chaperone; prior to joining Cats, she originated the role of Patty in another Lloyd Webber musical, School of Rock.)
If you saw the original production of Cats, you’re no stranger to its brilliant score and audacious characters. The current version—also directed by Trevor Nunn and transplanted yet again from London’s West End—has been updated just enough to place it in the present, with some orchestration improvements and tweaks to Gillian Lynne’s original choreography by Hamilton alum Andy Blankenbuehler.
But if this is your first time seeing Cats you’ll not only be entertained, you’ll also learn a thing or two about felines—like how to address them (hint: it involves treats), and that they have three different names.
Finally, the set is still the visually striking junkyard, only in this go-round, theatregoers are invited onstage during intermission to explore the landscape from a cat’s eye view: oversized shoes, hats, toothbrushes, and other paraphernalia decorate every beloved inch.
Cats’ Broadway revival is more than a show, it’s an event. Now and forever indeed!
Photo by Matthew Murphy
Cats is playing at the Neil Simon Theater, 250 W. 52nd St. For tickets call 877-250-2929 or visit catsthemusical.com.