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  • Writer's pictureNora Landy

Review: CATS: The Jellicle Ball (PAC NYC)

June 19th, 2024

There will be spoilers in this review if you care!!

Okay! This might not be the most well-written review but I’ll probably edit it later. As of right now, it is mostly a smattering of scattered thoughts.

Cats: The Jellicle Ball is genuinely fantastic.

I want to add a little disclaimer: I stay vigilant re: productions that shoehorn in queer “representation” just so that they can say they did it and thus make a lot of money off of queer people buying tickets— this was not one of those productions. This story was obviously built out of love, community, and passion.

Oh also, do not confuse me for a Cats simp who would’ve enjoyed any production of Cats regardless of quality or intention. I have historically been a certified Cats clowner.

This reimagining of Cats as a ball…it makes infinitely more sense than the original show. Having each cat’s song be a different category makes you care about them and about what’s going on! It lends story to a famously plot-less show, and it makes perfect sense! You can tell through every second that these puzzle pieces were painstakingly put together (seamlessly if you ask me) by people who know and love both theatre and ballroom. The ensemble is TIGHT. The vocals are CLEAN. The movement is VIBRANT. Seriously, not a single weak link to be found. This show is a prime example of how not every blatant reimagining of existing IP is a cheap cash grab (just a lot of them lol).

As someone who is only a tiny bit familiar with ballroom, first off, I was entranced. It was easy to fall in love with. Second off, I found myself thinking about the kind of person who knows even less than me. The kind of person who would’ve gotten confused just seeing a bearded person have acrylic nails. I thought that if someone like that, magically, could just sit patiently and see an evening of art like this…I don’t think it would fix much of anything, BUT I think it’s just so valuable to see the extent of worlds beyond your own. People who don’t get out of their bubble often stand to benefit most from expanding their horizons. Because it is! Ballroom is an entire WORLD that some people have never even heard of. Layers and layers of culture and art that people take lifetimes to fully comprehend. Like…you can’t get stumped at a beard and acrylic nails. There’s already 100 more interesting things happening. You will be left behind! And the train is well populated with smart people! I don’t know. I digress.

I don’t know anything about ALW’s politics but I do know that he’s a wealthy old capitalist and while I worship very much of his work, part of me was very tickled by the idea that artists can take such a PILLAR of contemporary musical theatre, several of the people involved having grown up with it, and make it theirs. It made me think about the way that an artist’s intention with their work is one thing, but what it ends up meaning to the audience is often entirely new. Cats stopped being ALW’s the second he showed it to someone else. It’s everyone’s now, and these artists chose to do something brilliant with it.

Something in particular that I found truly touching about The Jellicle Ball is the way that elders are portrayed. Like…we all know that the Cats movie is an absolute disaster, but in particular I found myself remembering how nearly every older character was treated as a punchline for much of that film. Not here; through the idolization and reverence given to both Old Deut AND Gus (and even Grizabella), an intimate and admiring portrayal of the ballroom scene’s elders emerges. You could feel it emanating from the cast, too. These people know they’re in the room with royalty. I couldn’t love what was done in that regard more.

And where would I be without mentioning the costumes! Nonstop tens. Such a pristine execution of a “different” kind of beautiful than we’re usually shown on the musical stage. The colors were magnificent. The attention to detail was apparent. I don’t know much about ballroom culture, but I didn’t need to because this costuming was some impeccable linework that enabled the full picture of the show to come together. Matching sweatsuits for Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer were a personal favorite, as was the sexy MTA agent costume for Skimbleshanks.

While I’m on the MTA agent bit: it was funny. I tend to abhor “hey we’re all from [place]! Laugh now!!!!!!!” jokes, but I was genuinely able to indulge in that moment. Here’s what I’m thinking as of right now: I think maybe I hate those jokes because they’re often done in these big houses where the team so clearly had to just go for the most obvious thing that most of their audience will be able to laugh at (such as fuck Jersey right? Ha ha ha!! I get that because I’m in New York! This is such an authentic moment that they won’t be able to recreate in any other city because that joke was for MY community only!), but BECAUSE this show is a portrayal of a tight-knit community, it didn’t bother me at all. Like yeah, I’d 100% do an MTA agent drag routine to make my friends laugh. That’s totally plausible and not cheap at all. And that’s why it didn’t bother me!

Regarding Memory: it was near flawless. I would’ve totally lost it at “look, a new life has begun,” because it was preceded by the most honest moment to look around and appreciate how this long-standing behemoth of a show has been given literal new life, HOWEVER: I lost it several minutes earlier because I noticed an older white gentleman across the runway from me. He looked very similar to the kind of person I was thinking should be forced to see this show, and I found myself wondering what he thought. And at a particularly stunning flourish during the song, I saw this man clasp his hands over his mouth, tears in his eyes, in pure awe. OBVIOUSLY I fucking lost it. What can I say? I fear the magic of live theatre will forever have me in a vice grip.

Another thing I usually hate that I didn’t this time! Act II begins with a projection/slide show. Admittedly I was at a bad angle and I had to be told what was actually featured in it, but I gathered that it was primarily photos of queer trailblazers/revolutionaries and ballroom icons. I have decided that there are many situations in which I hate a slideshow, most of them being re: lazy workaround instead of actually making an artistic choice to portray something. This was intentional, however, and not narrative. It was purely there to pay respects as well as show understanding and care for those who paved the way for a show like this to exist. It was really quite touching and earnest.

The one thing that sort of confused me was the moment when Grizabella finally ascends to the Heaviside layer— a door opens to let her out of the ball, and as she walks out, there’s a brief sound cue of standard NYC street noise. Indicating…something! I’m not sure what. Maybe that the world we live in IS heaven? That she was actually being reborn into a new life on Earth? Was it a cheap bit about the fact that the doors from the theatre actually just lead out onto the dirty NYC street and not to heaven at all? I have no idea. But the audience laughed.

Seriously, everyone in this cast is insane. Truly insane. Exemplary performances all around. If I wanted to list my standouts, it would end up being the entire cast. Every single person has their moment and every single one of them makes the absolute most of it. I never thought I’d be typing the words “I was obsessed with Jellylorem” but here I am.

Did I cry: Fucking yeah. Pretty immediately actually lol

Photo by Evan Zimmerman

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