Cats and ballet make for good bedfellows, even outside of the pas de chat or “step of the cat.” George Balanchine is famous for his obsession with his cat Mourka’s leaps. And NYCB ballet mistress Rosemary Dunleavy is always reminding us to place our feet nimbly like cats, to work exaggeratedly through demi-pointe when we roll through our feet. She also encourages us to study our cats at home when she coaches the crawling around in the Arabian solo in The Nutcracker—and she often does this while wearing the iconic Cats on Broadway t-shirt for good measure! Perhaps this is why Gina looked as comfortable in the junkyard set as she does in her tutus.
I found the show to be quite a hoot, which is not shocking given its jocular source material, but that aspect surprised me nonetheless. It is basically a jukebox musical of cat puns—there is not much in the way of plot or character development. In fact, the few through-lines the show has are its weakest links: Grizabella’s mysterious outsider status and fall from grace are relatively unexplained, making her reincarnation at the end feel hollow. I also wasn’t convinced by Leona Lewis’s portrayal of an old kitty. I know she is the headlining star in the show, but she looked like she was play-acting. Wouldn’t a respected Broadway elder have been a better fit? And the evil Macavity’s arrival is hyped often, yet the event itself underwhelms. He doesn’t even get a song. His catfight sequence seemed really weak after the foreshadowing number by the silky duo Madison Mitchell and Christine Cornish Smith as Demeter and Bombalurina.
What was such great fun about the show was the sheer silliness of it, from the cats entering through the dark audience with glowing eyes in the opening, to the grooming orgies, and the oddly poised group recitations of Eliot’s goofy verse. And the show is jam-packed with impressive dancing. Almost all of the cast sings and dances the whole time—and they are clearly an extraordinarily talented ensemble. Gina, whose albino unitard makes her stand out in even the darkest scenes, was in constant motion for over two hours. She danced beautifully and her committed performance alone is (in my admittedly biased opinion) worth the price of a ticket!
Since I am unfamiliar with the original choreography, I cannot comment too much on Andy Blankenbeuhler’s updates, but there were definitely some hip-hop accents that resembled his work in Hamilton. He also loves a slow, partnered lean-out arabesque. The dancing was really great throughout, and I couldn’t believe how well the performers were able to sing and enunciate while lifting each other, turning, and cartwheeling. Ricky Ubeda, as Mistoffelees, has the tour-de-force dance number of the production and he sailed through it. It contained a gauntlet of tricks: à la seconde pirouettes, coupés tombés jetés en tournant, etc. It reminded me of a Youth America Grand Prix solo, but with singing and a Siegfried and Roy light-up coat!
Since I’m having frequent Braxton-Hicks contractions and back pain now, it was hard to sit comfortably, and the show felt overlong to me. But I think even if I wasn’t extremely pregnant a little editing would have gone a long way. Also, how can you revive a cat musical in 2016 without a single nod to the internet? There was no cat-breading or cat-sushi-ing, no cat-Nicholas Cages or Hello Kitties, etc., to be found. When one cat took a ride on a broom I wished it was on a Roomba. This Cats revival is a little too serious for its own good, it is begging for some sort of meta-nod to modern cat memes.
Also, I’ve always had cats in my life, and cats are never that earnest. While Eliot’s poetry aptly describes many kinds of cats, (for example: my parents’ fat cat Giles was personified to a tee by Christopher Gurr as Bustopher Jones) I needed a little more cynicism to see the show as a proper feline tribute. The Cats cats perfectly embodied Eliot’s cat poems, yet for me to be convinced I needed to believe that they’d rather be contemplating his Four Quartets.
Last week I watched Stranger Things on Netflix, this week I saw Cats on Broadway with a group of friends I’ve known since I was a kid. The 80’s are having quite the renaissance. It is so surreal, on the cusp of motherhood, to be inundated with imagery from my own childhood!