Andrew Lloyd Webber’s CATS on Broadway has always intrigued me. From watching it as a child, at the Winter Garden Theater to seeing many lackluster community theater adaptations, I’ve never been sure if I adored it or despised it. This most recent iteration on Broadway, which is running at the Neil Simon Theater, pays homage to the record-breaking original that opened in 1982 and ran for a staggering 7,485 performances over the course of 18 years. With those impossibly huge shoes to fill, the new creative team on this production led by John Napier, Scenic and Costume Design; Natasha Katz, Lighting Design; Mick Potter, Sound Design; choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler; and direction by Trevor Nunn, all show that this revival has a more intoxicating draw than ever before.
The sheer physicality of what can only be described as triple threat performers in numbers such as “Macavity, the Mystery Cat” and “Magical Mister Mistoffelees” is hypnotizing for captivated theater-goers. The lyrics crawl under your skin just like a cat gliding across the floor and before you realize it, you’re humming along with the music, longing to be a junkyard cat portrayed so eloquently on stage. And finally, the show stopping number “Memory” was given to none other than British pop star Leona Lewis, making her Broadway debut. She brings a newness to the song that everyone’s been singing for over thirty years; a brightness that can only be delivered by a pop vocalist such as herself. While I am always a bit flustered and confused by this show’s calculating narrative filled with song and dance, all I know is that I won’t be able to get this particular soundtrack out of my head for a very long time.
Mark Ballas, who’s spent 18 seasons on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars, is putting his musical theater background to work as the last actor to star as the iconic Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys, ending its 11-year long run. “I’ve always had the dream to be in the show and playing Frankie was always the goal,” Ballas told Resident Magazine.
Honing the skill set of bringing to life on stage such a well-known part—as well as playing a real person—isn’t without its challenges, he explained. “I’m going to bring my own thing to it. They don’t want me to come in and do my own impression; instead I’m learning the lines and finding my own groove, staying true to Frankie and the original.”
To prepare for the roll, Ballas took a multi-pronged approach listening to the Broadway original cast and the Four Seasons. “I want to be as true to Frankie as possible. I’m bringing my own seasoning to the character by being optimistic and forward thinking as the younger version of Frankie and then being able to show darkness and change in his later years,” he said. As for what’s next for Ballas when he finishes his run in Jersey Boys, he plans to hit the road with his band named Alexander Jean, who he plays in alongside his fiancé BC Jean.