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Broadway review: Cats at the Neil Simon Theatre

Cats
Photograph: Courtesy Matthew Murphy Cats

 

My gateway show was not Cats—nor was it Les Miz or Phantom. I grew up, like any self-respecting theater snob, disdaining such tourist trash from afar. Lacking youthful nostalgia for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s synth-heavy score and the trademark image of actors writhing about in leg warmers, hissing through face paint, I’ve now seen the real thing live and up close. It blew my mind a little—like experiencing someone else’s déjà vu. Mainly I’m shocked that this ran from Reagan to Clinton. Most 12-year-olds have terrible taste; you can’t blame them, they’re only kids. They probably didn’t say to themselves: This show is amazing, but is it any good?

Tough question. When Cats opened at the Winter Garden in 1982, it was an incredibly risky experiment. T.S. Eliot’s 1939 book of children’s poetry, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, set to Britpop, sub-Puccini and English music-hall melodies. Actor-dancers poured into skin-tight unitards (well, that one’s a no-brainer). The whole thing whipped to a frenzy in Trevor Nunn’s music-video staging, perhaps cribbed from a Las Vegas discotheque. The first producers must have had screaming nightmares of bankruptcy.

 

 

 


Today, Cats feels experimental only in the sense of writing a show as if Oklahoma! and Company never happened. Lloyd Webber’s ability to craft a coherent book musical has always been shaky (School of Rock being a late-career exception to the rule). Cats is an attenuated high-concept revue that grows tedious by its second act. A bunch of cats slink out one night, introduce themselves and, by the end, two of them go to kitty heaven. Now and then you may catch a word not normally heard on Broadway: “ineffable” or “perpendicular.”

This was a lost opportunity. Rather than lamely re-creating the original (with some punchier added choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler), why not orchestrate the score for acoustic instruments, redo the costumes and dances, and find fresh drama underneath the tacky, dated pageantry? Instead we get a taxidermied pet. If there is heart to the piece, it’s Grizabella, the faded, outcast “glamour cat.” British crooner Leona Lewis has a big, yearning voice, but even her (heavily amplified) yowling of “Memory” can’t make the past worth revisiting.—David Cote

Neil Simon Theatre (Broadway). Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Based on T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. Choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler, based on the original choreography by Gillian Lynne. Directed by Trevor Nunn. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 15mins. One intermission. Click here for full venue and ticket information.

 

 

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Comments

6 comments
PIMP M

This is such a weird review if I have ever seen one. The critic bemoans the show in all instances but then praises Leona Lewis.  The exact opposite is what he should be saying: Leona Lewis is awful and not very talented with a terrible warbling amateur voice that needs work.  Her acting and character is totally wrong for this role along with a horrible performance meanwhile the rest of the actual show is full of creativity, and energy, nearly flawless in execution.  CATS is a radical show, it combines completely different odd elements and with the deck stacked against it, delivers.  There are simply no other Broadway shows that match the imagination, creativity, and distinct uniqueness of CATS. The musical score is also better than most all Broadway shows in the last 20 years.  ALW has full command of melody which is lacking in almost all other composers.  What is so mind boggling is that the critic suggests the show needs a refresh, with acoustic instruments. Seriously? So you want to kill the style of music which is precisely what makes the show unique and then turn it into a generic show using acoustic instruments only?  Quite a bizarre proposition.  I don't think non-creative types like the article author quite "gets it" Kitsch is precisely what makes this show work. 

Cliff Y

Couldn't agree more with David Cote. We saw Cat in Las Angeles some twenty years ago, and we loved it.  We were so excited to see the revival because our experience any show we see in LA, is going to be so much better on Broadway. We were totally disappointed after the first act. The second act was a little better and held our attention. But no show stopper. I cry during commercials, and believe me there was no hint of tears at the end of this show. There was no standing ovation, had I experienced one at the end of this show I would have been shocked. Bravo this Broadway audience got it right and remained in their seats. The setting and the music were great, so I'm left to put the blame on the cast. 

Sedge D

I just left at the intermission as I found it dated, disjointed and dull... I've been to so much theatre of all genres and although been tempted have never actually left before the end! That's $70 wasted!

Nobuko H

I saw Cats 30 yrs ago when we were in Astoria, NY. I'm going to get the ticket as I plan to travel to NYC. It's good for visiters like me.

Phillip B

I haven't seen Cats in ...20 years ?..It's not one of my favorite shows, but others loved it. There was no one thing I could be as mean as your review has been.  I must ask, "Do critics just have fun denigrating shows, or do they ever really enjoy anything?" You review seems to run contrary to 35 years of successful runs, and I'm sure there will be many more in the future. It would be interesting to hear what was good and perhaps not so good about the show, not what you wish it might be.  IF you're going to critique, then rate what you see, not what you wish you could see, having never seen the show before. The problem with seeing an old show for the first time is the show rarely lives up to the hype we've heard.



Not J

It sounds a little more like you're jealous that a 12-year-old knows how to have fun than anything else.  Your reviews are always bordering on mean and almost never on any educated criticism.