Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1981 musical Cats, which has just been revived on Broadway, and Hamilton don’t have all that much in common at first glance. One is a 21st-century hip-hop re-telling of the life of a neglected Founding Father. The other is a 1980s musical chronicling a clowder of cats based on T.S. Eliot‘s poetry.
But both shows now boast the services of choreographer extraordinaire Andy Blankenbuehler. And Blankenbuehler says the shows share plenty of common ground.
“There are similarities between them,” he told Heat Street. “The birth of Cats was probably very similar to the birth of Hamilton in that it was creative artists exploding into the world and doing something people hadn’t seen before so it was revolutionary.”
“Revolution, if it’s built in something honest, stays. They are also similar because both shows allow dance to tell the story in a way that most shows don’t,” he said. “So even though there is 23,000 words in Hamilton and with Cats it’s the least words I’ve ever had, the dance never stops and still has to tell the story.”
Then there’s the fact that Hamilton creator and erstwhile star Lin-Manuel Miranda is a huge fan of Cats and was hoping to attend the opening night on Sunday at the Neil Simon Theatre in Manhattan’s Times Square — until his flight from a vacation in Puerto Rico was delayed.
Lin-Manuel Miranda likes Cats the Musical omg pic.twitter.com/4pdf2iD0h1
— el/liot (@UndodgedBullet) July 23, 2016
For Lloyd-Webber, the appeal of the show — which originally ran on Broadway from 1983 to 2001 — is perennial. He told Heat Street: “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 [The King’s Speech director Tom Hooper is attached to direct the Cats movie] and I keep saying, ‘Actually, it might be possible as a movie, but it’s a theater piece.’ ”
Critics were hardly purring about the Cats revival, but its previous track record suggests it is critic-proof. Lord Lloyd-Webber recalled the initial bewildering response to the musical: “The idea of doing a musical with human beings as cats was considered to be absolutely crazy. Everybody thought we were mad.”
“We opened with most of the investment missing, I put a second mortgage on my house and nobody thought this show could work at all. It sold out for months by the time it got to New York, but early on in London we were considered to be off our heads and here we are all these years later!”
For Blankenbuehler, Cats is very relevant to millennials: “When I look at dance theatre I feel that often something is fake and I’m not OK until it’s true. This show does that- there are people dressed as cats and the circumstances are already heightened. But if the kernel of the moment is not honest, we don’t believe in it.”
“Cats is proof that in today’s culture, honesty is a very important thing as is Speaking truthfully, listening truthfully and living in a very awake state.”
“The show at its core is about second chances, forgiveness and open-mindedness in a culture that can be judgmental. That idea is relevant and never went away.”