British pop star Leona Lewis will play faded-glamour puss Grizabella in the upcoming Broadway revival of Cats, the production confirmed today. This is good news for theater fans who had worried that the revival would be obliged to cast an American stage performer, of whom not one exists with the ability to belt out “Memory."
Like a ragged Jellicle Cat rising on a giant tire to the Heaviside Layer, Lewis was elevated to fame as the winner of the U.K.’s X Factor in 2006. Since then, she has sold more than 20 million records, making her famous to people under 30, who are the core audience for a 1981 musical about cats singing light verse by T.S. Eliot in a junkyard.
One may pine for the days when roles like Grizabella went to talented theater stars like Betty Buckley and Laurie Beechman. But singing-contest alums have sometimes done surprisingly well in musicals (such as Fantasia in The Color Purple), so there’s reason for hope. "Leona has one of the greatest voices of her generation,” says Cats composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, who has also written musicals about trains, opera singers and Jesus Christ. “We are all hugely excited about working with her."
Lewis replaces Nicole Scherzinger, of the Pussycat Dolls, who played Grizabella in London in 2014 and was supposed to reprise the role on Broadway, but pulled out so that she could serve as a judge on an upcoming season of…X Factor. Whether this reflects some grand cosmic irony remains to be determined, but we would kill to see Betty Buckley on X Factor.