Like it or not, love it or hate it, “Cats” is back, yellow eyes logo, furry skintight costumes, elaborate makeup, “Jellicle Ball” and all. Sixteen years have gone by since it finished its record-breaking original run (7,485 performances from 1982 through 2000). The world has changed. Broadway has changed. But it’s back anyway.
“Cats” ushered in an age of spectacle-heavy British mega-musicals such as “Les Miz,” “The Phantom of the Opera” and Miss Saigon,” all of which dominated Broadway through at least the 1990s.
An unusual work, Andrew Lloyd Webber set T.S. Eliot’s playful verse from “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” to an eclectic score spanning rock, jazz, pop and Puccini. About half of it is extremely catchy and propulsive, and the rest is middling.
There is no plot, besides that the Jellicle cats have come together to celebrate their community. And at the end of the evening, one cat flies away on a giant tire. Or, as John Guare puts it in his play “Six Degrees of Separation,” it’s about “a bunch of chorus kids wondering which of them will go to Kitty Kat Heaven.”
The revival is modeled after the original production. Trevor Nunn has returned as director. John Napier’s oversized junkyard set design is back too. Andy Blankenbuehler (“Hamilton”) has staged the dance sequences in the style of Gillian Lynne’s original full-bodied choreography.
The revival could be better in some respects. The original production provided a more transporting experience because it played on a wider stage, which increased the intimacy, and its theater was more extensively transformed to suit the show’s unique physical environment. Musically, the size of the orchestra has been cut in half.
If the producers could not recreate the opulence of the original production, perhaps they should have started from scratch and completely reimagined “Cats.” After all, they can’t compete with its “memory.”
Playing Grizabella is the British singer Leona Lewis. She displays zero acting ability and gives a shaky rendition of the pop aria “Memory.” The rest of the cast is terrific, including Tyler Hanes’ strutting Rum Tum Tugger, Ricky Ubeda’s sprightly Mr. Mistoffeles and Quentin Earl Darrington’s sympathetic Old Deuteronomy.
The essential delights of “Cats” are still there, including its electrifying dance sequences and flashy visual effects. If you’re a fan of the show, by all means, go enjoy “the mystical divinity of unashamed felinity.”