Monday, February 22, 2016

Cat Crap

Why Broadway Doesn't Need a Revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Feline Extravaganza

The "classic" Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, Cats, will be returning to Broadway this summer, the first time it has been revived in New York since it closed in 2000. Wow, it's been 16 years since Cats closed. Almost as long as the show's original run (18 years). In fact, when it closed, it held the record as the longest running show on Broadway, which is an impressive feat for a show with a score that is alternately mediocre and irritating and has virtually no story whatsoever. I mean, I really think there should be some sort of rule that the time between a show closing and its first revival should be longer than the initial run of the show itself. Our respite from that steaming hunk of crap should be longer than the time we had to suffer that show taking up space on Broadway.  Make some room for something new.

But we can't, of course, because Broadway musicals cost so much to create that only known commodities will be produced. Look at the ever shrinking theatre listings page in the New York Times and you will see that almost everything on Broadway fits into one of three categories: revivals, juke-box musicals (shows built around existing songs that usually are old favorites of baby-boomers), and new shows based on a movie. Basically, anything that can capitalize on nostalgia. It is amusing to note that the Winter Garden Theatre, which housed Cats for its record breaking original run, has been occupied by virtually nothing else since Cats' closing, being the venue for Mamma Mia (the ABBA juke-box musical), followed by the short lived Rocky the Musical, and now the adaptation of School of Rock (also featuring a score by Lloyd Webber).

It's hard not to sound elitist, and I am trying to avoid old clich├ęs like "attracting the bridge and tunnel crowd," and I am trying to not say outright that much of the Broadway audience are unsophisticated tourists, but it is hard to look at Broadway and argue that most of what is produced is geared towards a discerning audience.

Me at 15 in Bye Bye Birdie.
I'm only putting this here to show that there
was a time when musical theatre was very
important to me.
"But what about Hamilton? What about The Book of Mormon?" To have one innovative must-see show each season while other original pieces tank left and right is not a sign of a diverse and thriving Broadway scene. I didn't mean for this to turn into a diatribe about the slow death of the American popular theatre, but again, when Cats is being revived, something is wrong.

I mean, let's be serious. Does anybody really like Cats? I think that people who know nothing about theatre pretend to like Cats to seem cultured. To be fair, the show was visually lyrical and beautiful (mostly due to the talents of choreographer Gillian Lynne). I can only imagine that first time theatre-goers might be dazzled into thinking that there is a greater theme that they're missing. They might be embarrassed to confess that they got bored after the first fifteen minutes and were only staying because they wanted to hear that "Memory" song that comes at the end of the show.

Admit it. You want to see this show.
I don't know. I really don't. What's the solution?  I can't expect theatre producers to be altruists whose goal is to provide unique, innovative, cultural nourishment, but still, "give the people what they want" should be the credo of YouTube, not Broadway.

You know what? I'm going to cut this diatribe short. This is becoming a bigger conversation than I wanted to have, and even I am getting sick of my own negativity anyway. Long story short, boycott the Cats revival and see some new theatre. And stop making juke-box musicals and musicals based on movies. It's getting really old. Except, you know what? I really want to see a stage musical version of The Three Amigos. Now, that would be great. Randy Newman wrote some great songs for the movie and I'm sure he could be persuaded to write a few more.

Then that's enough.

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