Cats: “The Jellicle Ball”

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Photo: Matthew Murphy Review
For many years, I felt the four scariest words in the English language were “CATS: Now and Forever.” So, it should mean it a lot when I say that while I don’t think a forever run is necessary – or even possible – “CATS: The Jellicle Ball” deserves a much longer engagement than its planned six-week stint at PAC NYC.

Indeed, this staggeringly inventive and joyous reimagining of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s love-it-or-hate-it 1981 musical, now set in the world of “ballroom” culture – if you don’t know what I mean, Google it – is nothing less than an extraordinary achievement that deserves to be seen by thousands and thousands of audience members, many of whom will want to make repeat visits.

The revue-like musical, which now essentially takes place in and around Rachel Hauck’s 57-foot runway, has been essentially re-formatted as a series of ballroom competitions such as “Body,” “Labels,” and “New Way vs Old Way” that earn winning contestants “10s across the board” and shiny trophies for which they fight tooth and nail (or claw). Being marginalized in society, these “cats” undeniably find self-worth in earning these trinkets.

Accordingly, the piece, which has been smartly co-directed and created by Zhailon Livingston and Bill Rauch, showcases gasp-inducing choreography (by Arturo Lyons and Omari Wiles) and equally gasp-inducing costumes (by the amazing Qween Jean), both of which engender frequent bouts of well-deserved applause from the audience. (Indeed, one is encouraged here to make noise, stand up and give love at any opportunity.)

Better still, the show is performed by a go-for-broke cast that includes everyone from musical theater legends (the ever-amazing Andre De Shields as Old Deuteronomy, here the king judge of the ballroom) to ballroom legends (a commanding Junior LaBeija as the aptly-named Gus the Theatre Cat and “Temptress” Chastity Moore, particularly touching as Grizabella, the Glamour Cat, who has clearly seen better days), along with a variety of ultra-talented performers from both worlds.

Still, just to be clear, “CATS: The Jellicle Ball” is still “CATS,” for better and worse, even if no one in the cast is wearing whiskers or coughing up fur balls. The show’s book, adapted from T.S. Eliot’s rather twee “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats,” remains completely intact -- complete with the nonsense about the “heavyside layer” -- and leaves us occasionally wondering why we’re talking about cats when there are clearly people on the runway!

Further, Webber’s sometimes catchy, sometimes indulgent score is sung and played in its entirety (although there is a very strong emphasis on dance), both for better and worse. Sydney James Harcourt is an extremely sensual Rum Tum Tugger, leading the audience in a singalong on the irresistible “Magical Mister Mistoffelees” (portrayed by the ultra-fabulous Robert “Silk” Mason looking like vintage 1970s Cher); Shereen Pimentel lends her shimmering soprano as Jellyorum in “Gus: The Theatre Cat”; Antwayn Hopper is sex and danger personified as Macavity: The Mystery Cat; and Dudney Joseph Jr. is consistently powerful as the show’s “master of ceremonies,” Munkustrap.

Still, the dancers are who we really keep our eyes peeled on, whether in solos or group numbers, including the fantastic Baby (as Victoria), Jonethan Burke (as Mungojerrie), Dava Huesca (as Rumpleteaser) and Emma Sofia (as Skimbleshanks), They’re flexible to say the least, as well as phenomenally precise in their movements, engendering a sense of awe – and the feeling one should maybe occasionally go the gym.

Admittedly, even at the end of this lengthy extravaganza, you may still not really understand what a “jellicle cat” is, but you will be jealous of your friends and neighbors if they get to see this groundbreaking production and you don’t.

By Brian Scott Lipton

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Open/Close Dates
Opening 6/20/2024
Closing 8/11/2024

Theatre Info
251 Fulton Street
Neighborhood: Financial District
New York, NY 10007