‘Cats: The Jellicle Ball’ Offers a Fresh, Whisker-Free Experience

New York – What happens when you strip ‘Cats’ of its feline frippery? ‘Cats: The Jellicle Ball’ answers this question by merging Andrew Lloyd Webber’s iconic musical with New York’s underground ballroom culture, resulting in a vibrant and enthralling new take on the show.

Directed by Zhailon Levingston and Bill Rauch, artistic director of the Perelman Performing Arts Center, this production replaces the traditional cat costumes and makeup with the exuberant and competitive spirit of ballroom culture, a phenomenon highlighted in the 1990 documentary ‘Paris Is Burning’ and celebrated by Madonna’s ‘Vogue.’ The show features competitions between ‘houses,’ or self-chosen families of performers, both in and out of drag.

Despite the unconventional approach, ‘Cats: The Jellicle Ball’ retains the essence of Lloyd Webber’s original, focusing on an annual ball where the Jellicle Cats gather to compete for the chance to ascend to the ‘Heaviside Layer’ and gain new life. This structure mirrors the battles between houses in ballroom culture, making the adaptation surprisingly fitting.

The production features a long runway cutting through the centre of the theatre, with cocktail tables alongside it, encouraging audience interaction and participation. A DJ occasionally infuses Lloyd Webber’s score with bursts of house music and funk, enhancing the show’s dynamic energy without compromising the integrity of the songs.

The cast includes performers from traditional theatre, music, and dance backgrounds, as well as ballroom culture. Notable performances include André De Shields as Old Deuteronomy, who commands the stage with dignified authority, and Sydney James Harcourt as the self-satisfied Rum Tum Tugger. Junior LaBeija, featured in ‘Paris Is Burning,’ plays the ‘theatre cat’ Gus, while Baby, a standout dancer, portrays Victoria with breathtaking precision.

Chasity Moore delivers a powerful performance as Grizabella, imbuing the much-recorded ballad ‘Memory’ with a rich contralto that revitalizes the familiar tune. The extravagant costumes by Qween Jean add bright pops of neon color, further enhancing the show’s visual appeal.

While the production deviates from the traditional ‘Cats’ aesthetic, it breathes new life into the musical, creating an exuberant and entertaining experience that blends old and new. ‘Cats: The Jellicle Ball’ successfully reimagines a beloved classic, offering a unique and captivating performance that stands out in the New York theatre scene.

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