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‘Cats’ review: Beloved Broadway musical leaps back onstage

Leona Lewis stars as Grizabella in the revival

Leona Lewis stars as Grizabella in the revival of "Cats" on Broadway. Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy

WHAT “Cats”

WHERE Neil Simon Theatre, 250 W. 52nd St.

INFO $59-$149; 877-250-2929, catsthemusical.com

BOTTOM LINE If you loved the show, you’ll probably love it. If not . . .

Nearly 34 years have crept and bellowed away since “Cats” introduced Broadway to our first British mega-musical. Revived for the first time with much the same creative team but, significantly, a more interesting choreographer, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s epoch-defining Tony winner is unlikely to disappoint a ton of the 10 million people who flocked to Broadway for what was then a record 18 years.

For worldwide fans of the show, and, no doubt, for susceptible new generations, it will be safe for the promoters to change the original “Now and Forever” slogan to “Again and Forever.”

For the resistant rest of us, alas, “Cats” remains an overblown kiddie show. It’s a big, glitzy, repetitious song-and-dance cycle about rebirth that, despite the cachet of being based on T.S. Eliot poems, hardly has an idea in its fuzzy head that goes beyond precious gibberish or that touches the genuine mysteries of felines.

Even the magical surprises of a wraparound garbage dump and the truck tire that rises like a rocket toward kitty heaven have been muted by subsequent triumphs of spectacle over content. John Napier’s environmental set and slinky-cat unitard costumes still are moonstruck and artful, but those once-wowie special effects seem as lived-in as Old Deuteronomy’s shag rug of a coat.

This puts additional pressure on the story, such as it is, about a tribe of jellicle cats who gather one night a year to party at the Jellicle Ball and breathlessly wait for Old Deuteronomy (the resonantly sympathetic Quentin Earl Darrington) to choose one — “who will it be?” — to pass onto another jellicle life. Ask not what means jellicle. Eliot made it up.

Director Trevor Nunn has put together a first-rate cast of singers and dancers, who prowl the aisles and crawl onstage through sewer tunnels with tireless enthusiasm. The exception, don’t hate me, is British pop singer Leona Lewis, oddly shrill and steely as Grizabella, the aging glamour cat who is shunned for most of the show but gets to knock the finale out of the park with the can’t-lose applause-button “Memory.”

Best of all is the refreshed choreography by Tony winner Andy Blankenbuehler (“Hamilton”) who has replaced Gillian Lynne’s compilation of stock moves with variety and invention. Except for a preponderance of butt-waving, the taffy-jointed dancers have some of the angular, sudden, inexplicable moves of catliness. Highlights include balletic Georgina Pazcoguin, all in white, who moves as if she loves being in her skin, and Ricky Ubeda as Mr. Mistoffelees, who unspools turns and leaps with soft-paw landings.

Whatever creature credibility the dancers achieve, however, is shattered at the end when we’re told that — see? — cats are just like you and me. Of course, they are not. That’s what makes cats, the real things, so enchanting.

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