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BWW Review: Charming CATS Revival Is Packed With Terrific Performances


Since it's no longer the 1980s, the culturally elite of Broadway can now take in a performance of Cats without thinking, "Good God, is this what musical theatre has come to?"

Kim Fauré and Christine Cornish Smith
(Photo: Matthew Murphy)

And since it's no longer the 1990s, they may also enjoy the frisky pleasures of composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and director Trevor Nunn's lightly-plotted adaptation of T.S. Eliot's 1939 collection of poems, "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats," without desperately trying to think of city officials they can bribe in order to have the Winter Garden Theatre condemned before it surpasses A CHORUS LINE as Broadway's longest running production.

A newcomer to the show watching the sweet and endearing revival now gracing the Neil Simon Theatre may find it surprising to know how polarizing Cats was during its original 18-year stay. American musical theatre wasn't exactly at its zenith when the West End hit was recreated for Broadway. When Cats was awarded the 1983 Tony Award for Best Musical, the only other nominated show with a new score was the less-than-inspiring MERLIN. But many dismissed Cats as style over substance, aimed at tourists looking for nothing more than something fun and flashy.

And when T.S. Eliot, who had passed on eighteen years earlier without any knowledge of having written a musical, was awarded the prize for Best Book, it was considered by some to be a bit of slap in the face to fellow nominees like Betty Comden and Adolph Green, who had ventured far from their typical fare with the musical drama A DOLL'S LIFE, and Peter Stone, who performed amazing rescue work when he was brought in to create an entirely new book for MY ONE AND ONLY during out-of-town previews.

Of course, none of these issues have anything to do with the overall charming piece that encases Eliot's whimsical words (as well as lyrical contributions from director Nunn and Richard Stilgoe) with a fun and diverse Lloyd Webber score that strays from the rock-based essence of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT and the hard-driving rhythms of EVITA into a gentler and tuneful classical pop sound.

The collection of character-based songs, each sung by or describing a uniquely-personalitied feline, is connected by the whisker-thin scenario that has Jellicle Cats attending the annual Jellicle Ball (don't ask), where patriarch Old Deuteronomy chooses one of them to ascent to the Heaviside Layer (I said don't ask).

As he did back in the 80s, designer John Napier provides a curiously colorful junkyard set and dresses most of the company in furry unitards. Natasha Katz's lighting blends nicely from mysteriously textured to showbiz glitz and Andy Blankenbuehler's choreography is based on Gillian Lynne's original mix of ballet and acrobatics that really does replicate cat-like movement.

Georgina Pazcoguin
(Photo: Matthew Murphy)

While not every role requires triple-threat expertise, Cats makes some serious acting, singing and dancing demands on its company and Nunn's litter is packed with terrific performers. Jess Leprotto and Shonica Gooden nimbly tread through their singing of "Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer" while gliding through numerous acrobatic configurations. Kim Fauré and Christine Cornish Smith intensely undulate during their performance of "Macavity, The Mystery Cat" like twin Ann-Margrets on the prowl, and ballet dancer Georgina Pazcoguin is divine in her featured moments as Victoria.

There's the cheerfully fun tap-dancing of Eloise Kropp as Jennyanydots, the dapper panache of Jeremy Davis as Skimbleshanks, the Railway Cat, and the grizzled dignity of Christopher Gurr as the elderly Gus the Theatre Cat.

Pop star Leona Lewis has been cast as Grizabella, the cat of tragically faded glamour who sings the musical's dramatic 11 o'clocker, "Memory." She has no acting credits in her bio and it shows, making the evening's climactic moment a sad letdown, especially when considering the many underused Broadway actresses who can really make a meal out of it.

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From This Author Michael Dale