By Claire Del Sorbo
If the Tony Awards were based on amount of ear worms instead of theatrical achievements, “Cats the Musical” would be likely to sweep this year. I can’t remember the amount of times I’ve sung “jellicles can and jellicles do” this past weekend. However, after the earworms disappeared, I considered this the end of my relationship with “Cats.”
“Cats” is a musical with words from T.S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats,” and music by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber. The original production of “Cats” closed in 2000, and was once the longest-running show on Broadway with 7,485 performances under its belt. This record has since been surpassed by Webber’s other juggernaut, “The Phantom of the Opera,” which had almost 12,000 performances.
The problem with “Cats” is not merely its music, lyrics, choreography or set. The fundamental flaw of “Cats” is the simple fact that it’s just plain ridiculous. The idea of fully-grown adults in leotards, wild wigs and garish makeup, licking themselves and hissing, is enough to make any person cringe. Furthermore, its source material does not exactly make for a strong musical. One of “Cats’” other main flaws is its lack of plot. The cats sing about the members of their tribe and the social stratification, but besides these numbers and the iconic tire scene at the end of the show, what else happens?
Nevertheless, I was somewhat able to overcome my internal biases towards “Cats,” and make an effort to enjoy the show. Most of the principal cast was enjoyable. My favorite cast members were Eloise Kropp as Jennyanydots, Tyler Hanes as the Rum Tum Tugger and Christopher Gurr as Gus the Theatre Cat. These actors stood out fairly well in a cast of relatively unknown actors.
The headlining performance was certainly Leona Lewis as Grizabella the Glamour Cat. Though nonexistent in Eliot’s original text, Grizabella plays an important role in “Cats.” She is also the character who sings the musical’s signature song, “Memory.” It would appear to me that Grizabella’s role serves no purpose other than to simply stop the show. Through the entire first and most of the second act, I continually checked my watch to see if it was time for this convoluted show to finally end.
Once I heard the opening arpeggio of “Memory,” Lewis had my attention. Her rich, powerful voice breathes new life into the famous ballad. However, Grizabella is old and grey. Lewis looked far too young to be playing an aged cat reminiscing about her youth. Furthermore, it seemed a bit chaotic that after such an anticlimactic first and second act, the show reached its pinnacle with one song.
This production of “Cats” is a perfectly acceptable rendition of an otherwise campy and nonsensical show. The music showcases Webber’s diversity as a composer, especially when compared next to his two other Broadway musicals: “Phantom” and “School of Rock.” The cast is talented and enjoyable, performing Andy Blankenbuehler’s avant-garde choreography while juggling Webber’s difficult score. But the show itself does not do justice to its praiseworthy cast. It appears to me that this revival of “Cats” will not enjoy the same success that the original production had, cutting its nine lives short.