Are you feeling the urge to pause under a street lamp and glance toward the distant glow of Times Square? The pull of nostalgia is strong with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cats,” which officially opens July 31 for its first Broadway revival since its 18-year run that began in 1982.
The New York production comes on the heels of a successful West End run, although it’s not exactly the same show. Nor is it quite what your parents might recall. One of the big updates is new choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler, who won a Tony Award for making the founding father dance in “Hamilton.”
“As a young dancer, ‘Cats’ was a huge inspiration to me,” he says. “I never had the chance to dance in the show, and I felt that I had really missed out on being part of history. So when Andrew asked me to lend my voice [to the 2016 revival], I was just thrilled.”
How does a relatively fresh choreographer go about putting his touch on one of the most fundamentally movement-driven musicals?
“Gillian [Lynne] created such a recognizable vocabulary, just as John Napier’s design is simply historic. So I set based my work off the original staging,” he says. “Sometimes it was about diving deeper into character or dovetailing transition moments. Today’s audiences are definitely impatient, and they demand their imagination to be pushed in new directions.”
New talent was also brought in for the lighting, which was adapted by Natasha Katz, whose work can also currently be seen in “School of Rock” and “Aladdin.” “Her work, as always, is stunning,” Blankenbuehler says. “It provides focus that is vibrant. Even though the set is the original design, Natasha makes it seem brand new.”
Smaller orchestral and structural changes have found their way into the libretto over time, while certain novelties, such as a rap introduced in London, were nixed for New York. That might disappoint “Hamilton” fans, but it makes sense for the city where “Cats” still holds the title for fourth longest-running show.
Perhaps that’s because, at the end of the day, it’s all about what dazzled crowds in the first place. And that memory seems to be the key to attracting fans this summer – not only those who loved it before, explains Blankenbuehler, but a new generation.
“Through my children, I’ve witnessed how this score pulls audiences in and sends their imaginations racing. They love it,” he says. “For so many people, ‘Cats’ was their first Broadway show. Now those people are in the audience bringing their kids. I feel so very lucky to be part of that cycle.”
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