Broadway Musical Musings: Cats: A Return from the Heavyside Layer
Cats is back. Though I am not particularly ready for it, I cannot dispute the fact the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical of my childhood, based on the poems of T.S. Eliot, is readying itself for a revival at Broadway’s Neil Simon Theatre. I imagine many folks are excited by its return, especially those who have a fond “Memory” of their first visit to a Broadway show, ushered into the thrill of live theatre by this feline extravaganza. For some, this revival will be a cosmic return from the Heavyside Layer.
If you grew up in the 1980s, Cats WAS Broadway, at least for those who were looking for family fair. It’s hard to recall, but there was once a time where musicals that invited children into the theatre where not at every turn on Broadway. This was the pre-Disney era when Times Square was alive with XXX movie houses and colorfully adorned hookers for your childhood amusement. The Lion King, Aladdin or Matilda did not entice the tender audiences to come to the theatre. No…we had Cats. Cats is what we had. In fact, Cats was around for an exponentially long time. For many of us, Cats was something we revisited more often than was necessary, because, that’s the show you went to see if you were in NYC during the 80s.
I have to say, for all the advertising, hype and the excitement surrounding the musical, Cats left me cold. It was not my first Broadway musical, but I saw it early on in my theatergoing experiences. I remember being fascinated by the look of everything, so much so that I spent hours drawing sketches of the scenery and the costumes, but I don’t remember much beyond the physical production sticking with me (not the way 42nd Street, my first Broadway musical, had engrained itself into my psyche). No, I remember leaving the theatre thinking “Huh…that was it?” Perhaps my expectations had been too high? Perhaps I thought every song was going to emotionally impact me the way that “Memory” did? I just remember feeling a colossal letdown and wishing I had seen The Mystery of Edwin Drood or Big River instead.
I am interested in seeing this Broadway revival. Why? Because I am afraid that I missed something in seeing Cats as a child. I must have overlooked something that so many others were seeing, or perhaps I was curmudgeonly old-fashioned even as a teenager. It seems likely to me that this is a musical better appreciated with a little more age. It’s a musical about time and what it does to you. It’s a story about looking back on life and finding the value therein. Maybe a contemporary trip to the Jellicle Ball will help me see the heart of a musical that has, up until now, eluded me? Maybe it will take nine lives before I see it.