Show/Venue: Cats at the Neil Simon Theatre
Date: Tuesday, September 27th, 2016 @ 7pm
Starring: Tyler Hanes, Aaron J. Albano, Leona Lewis, Eloise Kropp, Ricky Ubeda, Jess LeProtto, Daniel Gaymon
The first time I saw Cats was in a touring production that came through The Lied Center in Lincoln, Nebraska. I enjoyed the show, but was a little ambivalent about seeing the show on Broadway. Well, once I saw the enthusiasm that my friend, Zach, had about wanting to see the show; I knew I had to go with him. I knew that the creative team was keeping true to the original 80’s hit, but I was interested to see how much they would keep the same. (I vividly remember an episode of Reading Rainbow where Levar Burton visited the set of the show and even got to put on the legendary cat makeup, wig and ears!)
We got some Mezzanine seats and arrived at the theatre to see it had been transformed into the junkyard so familiar with any fan of the show. The audience was full of Asian tourists for some reason and we settled in for the Jellicle Ball.
It was hard to determine the various actors and actresses under so much makeup, but I was thankful for the format of the show; since each song is an introduction to each of the characters. Right away Zach spotted Aaron J. Albano and I found Eloise Kropp. I kept searching for some of my other favorite dancers: Ricky Ubeda and Jess LeProtto of So You Think You Can Dance fame and Daniel Gaymon from Travis Wall’s Shaping Sound Dance Troupe.
There’s not much plot to describe besides the naming and introduction of the cats. I really liked watching Eloise Kropp (Dames at Sea) show off her astonishing tap dance skills as Jennyanydots in “The Old Gumbie Cat” and she even got a sparkling jacket, which I don’t remember from the original production. However, my favorite number in Act One was “The Rum Tum Tugger,” which really gave Tyler Hanes a chance to show off and play to the crowd. In a thoughtful update, he jumps into the Orchestra seating and takes a selfie with an audience member, which is then posted onto Instagram.
“Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer” was another fun number featuring Jess LeProtto (On the Town, Newsies) and Shonica Gooden (Hamilton, Bring It On), who got to play this pair of mischievous cats with a playful attitude and penchant for stealing. Mostly, it was a chance to show off their superior dance skills in a nicely choreographed duet.
I was also anxious to see and hear Leona Lewis as Grizabella. (Especially after the much-heated debate between Andrew Lloyd Webber and Nicole Scherzinger, when she decided to be a judge on the UK version of The X-Factor instead of joining the Broadway show.) I can say one thing, Leona Lewis has a beautiful voice, but acting is not her strong suit. The grit of Grizabella was missing. Even throughout her performance of “Memory,” I didn’t feel sorry for Griz; which is the point of the song.
I left my seat for intermission and was surprised to see audience members on the stage when I returned to my seat. In another update to the show, audience members could come up on stage and take a photo with Old Deuteronomy (Quentin Earl Darrington, Ragtime); selfie sticks non-withstanding.
Again, I can’t remember much of the beginning of Act Two, but I loved it when Ricky Ubeda (On the Town, Shaping Sound) finally got to shine in “Magical Mister Mistoffelees!” Taking a cue from the Rockettes, Mistoffelees enters in a black blazer that lights up with rainbow LED lights throughout his performance. (Ok, how do I get one of those for Pride weekend?) The number, updated by Andy Blankenbuehler, gave Ricky the chance to shine and really show off his technique.
Another notable number was when Daniel Gaymon came out as Macavity (“Macavity, The Mystery Cat”) and showed of his long lines and leaps. I got to see him last year as a part of Shaping Sound and was surprised to see him in the show. I don’t know why, but it amuses me when so many former dancers show up on Broadway with impressive vocal abilities; guess I should misjudge their triple threat abilities.
Overall, the costuming was kept the same: leotards with legwarmers and dance-belt like tails. It felt very 80’s, but I was still entertained. Would I go back again? That’s yet to be determined, but if you haven’t seen this show, it’s worth going to. You might be confused by the plot or lack thereof, (I heard a woman in line for the bathroom say “Is there a plot? Is it just a bunch of cats?” which I had to chuckle at), but at least you’ll be amused.
Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats
The Name of Cats
Invitation to the Jellicle Ball
The Old Gumbie Cat
The Rum Tum Tugger
Entry of Grizabella
Bustopher Jones: The Cat About Town
Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer
Song of the Jellicles and the Jellicle Ball
Introduction to Act II/The Moments of Happiness
Gus the Theatre Cat
The Awefull Battle of the Pekes and the Pollicles
Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat
Macavity, The Mystery Cat
Magical Mister Mistoffelees
Journey to the Heaviside Layer
The Ad-dressing of Cats