The Jellicle cats explain what their tribe is like, who should and should not belong, various naming conventions, as well as their excitement for the highly-anticipated event of each passing year: The Jellicle Ball. Various cats are introduced one by one, each singing and dancing to their own tune, describing their rather mundane routines. Grizabella (Leona Lewis), a glamor cat who has seen better days, enters the picture and attracts the ire of her fellow felines. She sings a lonely song bemoaning what has become of her life, before finally leaving to avoid any potential conflict. With the arrival of the patriarch, Old Deuteronomy (Quentin Earl Darrington), it is revealed that he is the one in charge of picking the cat that will be given the chance to go to the Heaviside Layer to be reborn as one of them.
Okay, okay, this was the very first one I saw when I arrived here in New York but took the longest to review. Why? I didn’t understand it that much! HAHAHA. For an hour or two I was sitting there watching humans dressed as cats of different shapes and sizes dancing and singing about really routinary stuff. The only thing I know about Cats is the song called Memory, which is not a lot to work on because everyone knows that song anyway. Well, at least the lyrics are kind of straightforward, an ode to glamor and wasted youth, sort of.
Lewis as Grizabella is not really that evocative, but I think the barometer of success for the character is how well you sing THAT song. The first time she does it is not that memorable, perhaps because you have reservations about her thinking that, oh no, she’s going to sing a pop version! Think Demi Lovato’s version of Let It Go versus that of Idina Menzel. And then she gets to that “TOUUUUUCH MEEEEEEEE” part the second time around and then the hair on my arms just went berserk. It’s one of those musical theater moments that makes you feel any non-fan would be converted right then and there because of the intensity of the impact. Showstopper alert! And then she got her well-deserved round of applause. Congratulations, Leona Lewis, you are not a fluke.
The song and dance numbers are really lively, but somehow they weren’t enough to sustain my short attention span, and I just don’t know why. Maybe it has something to do with the subject matter? There are things they sing about that you just can’t care much about. And then they suddenly sing about something philosophical, with existentialist undertones that make you think, wow, are these really cats? The street cats I know usually just snob people and sleep. But then again, this is theater. Musical Theater. You don’t take everything at face value. These cats are metaphors for humans, I’d say.
If they are, then what does the main premise actually pertain to? Reincarnation? Maybe we do not have to go that far. Cats are said to have nine lives, but humans do not. Hence, YOLO, right? We can look at it as another shot at life. Starting over again. Second chances. For Grizabella, she has been shunned by her own kind for a long time, and when she finally ascended to the Heaviside Layer, a new day has begun. We can really let our minds wander wildly about right now and I can give you a dozen other theories on what this could figuratively mean, but that would be pointless. Perhaps it is that ambiguity that makes this musical special. It can be anything, really. But while you ponder about those big questions, here are some dancing cats! HAHAHA.
Cats is one of the longest running musicals in the history of contemporary theater. Its appeal seems to stem from its rather convoluted premise made palatable to a general audience, especially the younger ones, by virtue of colorful song and dance numbers. Because of its layered theme, both adults and children can enjoy it, and is recommended as a worthwhile family affair.