I have never been particularly fond of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s single-chord career, but a largely plotless musical that runs for over seven thousand performances certainly warrants at least one open-minded viewing. And while I can’t attest to being a full convert, I have to admit that during the revival of Cats currently running at the Neil Simon Theatre—which, by all accounts, is quite faithful to the original—I found myself occasionally charmed by the ‘eighties excess of this synth-backed schmaltz.
Cats is more of a live concept album than a musical; one by one, the Jellicle tribe introduces itself, their gathering justified by the arrival of Old Deuteronomy (Quentin Earl Darrington) who will, by evening’s end, announce which of them will go to Heaviside Layer and be resurrected. John Napier’s scenic design is stunning, the stage littered with a cat’s-eye-view of the trash found on the streets of London: oversized bras, boots, and miscellaneous detritus make their way as far as halfway down the sides of the orchestra seating. And Natasha Katz’s lighting, pulsing like that of arena rock, finely accents costumes that evoke David Bowie at his glam peak.
Of course, Cats, surely one of the loudest musicals ever written, is often tedious, and its unabashed shallowness can occasionally leave you wanting a little more (for example, “allegorical cats, [or] metaphorical cats”). Furthermore, the singing bears a little too much of the influence of American Idol, and I suspect “Memory” would carry more weight in a less poppy rendition. Really, the whole thing is so damn stupid that it is difficult to believe it was conceived by adults. But I would be lying if I wrote that it didn’t have its endearing moments: Gus (Christopher Gurr), the old, Olivier-like “Theatre Cat” who laments “these modern productions,” is a particular highlight, especially since one suspects that Cats is precisely the kind of production at which this pompous Shakespearean sticks up his nose. Ultimately, this is the kind of show where the review feels superfluous: is there any theater-goer in New York City who doesn’t already know how they feel about this behemoth blockbuster?
Cats runs through December 30th at the Neil Simon Theatre. 250 W. 52nd Street New York, NY. 2 hours 15 minutes. One intermission.