'Cats' Opens on Broadway: 8 Things That Happened at the Jellicle Ball
Andrew Lloyd Webber's dedication to James M. Nederlander, Leona Lewis' Broadway debut and a slew of sequins, face paint and piercing yellow eyes.
The first-ever revival of Cats opened on Broadway on Sunday, 16 years after the closing of its record-breaking original 18-year run. Its premiere — nicknamed the Jellicle Ball, of course — included a special dedication to James M. Nederlander, a moving moment during the overture and a surprising intermission experience.
The Hollywood Reporter recounts 8 things that happened at the opening night of Cats:
1. Alongside The Phantom of the Opera and School of Rock — The Musical, three Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals are now playing on Broadway. Since he’s not a producer of the revival, “I can sit back and slightly be a composer again tonight,” he told THR before the performance, also marking Leona Lewis' Broadway debut. He had last seen it two weeks ago: “I was very pleased with it. They kept the essence and the experience of the old show, plus more modern ideas in the dance and technology.”
Universal is set to adapt the musical for the big screen, with Tom Hooper to direct. Said Lloyd Webber of the show’s lasting legacy, “The poetry of T. S. Eliot is timeless, and Cats is really about theater; it’s something that’s entirely theatrical. A lot of people keep asking me today about the status of the movie, and I keep saying, ‘Actually, it might be possible as a movie, but it’s a theater piece.’”
2. The red carpet was outfitted with faceless cardboard cutouts of actors in the original Cats costumes, plus piercing yellow cat eyes as a backdrop (also replicated on a Snapchat geofilter). And just outside the Neil Simon Theater doors, Emma’s Designs painted the faces of superfans and excited children, like Constantine Maroulis’ five-year-old daughter Malena.
3. The opening night performance — attended by Rosie O’Donnell, Tommy Tune, Will Chase and Ingrid Michaelson — got guests nostalgic about their first encounter with Cats. “I remember it vividly – I might have been the only non-tourist in the audience that night,” laughed Reed Birney of watching the original run 15 years ago with his mother. “Somebody walked across my seat and put their tail in my face.”
Rachel and Jack Antonoff saw the musical as kids. “We’ve always loved the music, we sang it all the time – and still do,” said Rachel. “I wanted to be Victoria the White Cat, I loved her as a child – so pretty.”
Tituss Burgess saw a touring production and listened to the soundtrack endlessly. “I’ve wanted to be Grizabella, I don’t know why they didn’t call me!” said the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt star, who might add “Memory” to his set list at the upcoming Elsie Fest.
4. Ken Page, who played Old Deuteronomy in the original production, teared up the moment the overture began. “I’m excited to support this and send my energy up there,” he said. “All this time has gone by, and people aren’t here anymore. But I’m glad I’m here, for starters, and able to see it.”
Leona Lewis takes a bow at the 'Cats' opening. Photo credit: Jenny Anderson/Getty Images
5. During intermission, a few theatergoers went onstage to take pictures with Old Deuteronomy, who remains stoic throughout the break. Though the production has traditionally offered the unique opportunity to young attendees, it surprised Patina Miller, who was watching the musical for the first time. “What not to do at the theater,” she said, shaking her head. “Bad theater etiquette.”
6. Lloyd Webber took a moment during the curtain call to honor the late James M. Nederlander, the theater legend who died last week. “On behalf of this wonderful company and the incredible creative team,” he told the audience, “all of us would like to dedicate this production to the great Jimmy Nederlander.”
7. Musical director and orchestrator Alex Lacamoire hit the premiere to support choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, as both won Tonys for their work in Hamilton. He held high praise for “The Rum Tum Tugger” and “Mr. Mistoffolees,” he told THR after the performance: “I really saw Andy’s hand in those numbers.”
8. Afterward, theatergoers gathered at Gotham Hall for the opening night’s jewel-toned bash. Sequin and lace masks were sprinkled on the dinner tables, as guests enjoyed chicken verdicchio, casarecce pasta and poached salmon. Though the party served no signature cocktail — or Jellicle shots — Andrew’s hit-filled playlist got Burgess dancing with Lewis and Orange Is the New Black’s Jackie Cruz and Diane Guerrero, while Sophia Anne Caruso, Laura Osnes, Corey Cott, Stephanie J. Block, Lin Tucci and Lesli Margherita and many others made memories well into the night.
The curtain call at the 'Cats' opening. Photo credit: Jenny Anderson/Getty Images