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ICYMI: Cats returns to Broadway this summer

By David Cote
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Sometimes, cats wake you—batting at your face with little furry paws, sitting on your chest and purring, nosing a book off your night table that lands with bang! This morning we were awoken by Cats—the blockbuster musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber. The feline extravaganza that vowed to run “Now and Forever”—but closed in 2000 after a piddling 18 years—is back. Starting July 14, Cats will begin an open-ended engagement at the Neil Simon Theatre on West 52nd Street. Fans of the show, or those who want to relive the ’80s, are probably thrilled.

I have an admission to make: I never saw Cats. In the 1990s I was a hardcore downtown snob, and the thought of dropping $40 on a mezzanine seat to the tourist trap seemed ludicrous. When I started working at Time Out New York, Lloyd Webber’s cash cow had only three weeks left, but I wouldn’t deign to see what nearly two decades’ fuss was all about.

Maybe you’re shaking your collective head. I’m guessing you saw Cats when you were a kid or teen. That seems to be the demo that bonds most strongly and uncritically to the piece. I never had that gateway teenage Broadway experience to Cats or Lez Misérables or Rent—or kids now attending Hamilton. (In college, I heard the Off Broadway original cast CD of Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman’s Assassins, and it blew my tiny mind. But that’s another story.) Will seeing Cats this summer be like stepping into a time machine and emerging a “Memory”-belting, impressionable 13-year-old?

Hard to say. Lloyd Webber and his producers, high on the success of School of Rock, are undoubtedly keen to cement his legacy with a younger audience. To do that they are keeping the original iconography of the leotard-and-makeup-heavy production, while modernizing some of the moves and sounds. First, the scary news: Lloyd Webber wrote a rap number to replace “The Rum Tum Tugger.” Continuing the hip-hop adjustments is the addition of choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler (Hamilton) to the creative team. When Cats re-opened in London in 2014, our counterpart called the reboot “bizarre.” With the Shuberts and Nederlanders joining forces on this revival, we expect the creative decisions will be shrewder and less tacky than in London. All the same, from archival video I’ve seen (I can only watch four minutes before internal bleeding occurs), I don’t know if even the best grooming could make me love these screeching junkyard furballs.

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