Critics' claws out for Leona Lewis in Cats' Broadway revival

British singer Leona Lewis has failed to convince the critics in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Broadway revival of Cats.

The former X Factor winner stepped into the leading role of Grizabella after Nicole Scherzinger pulled out just before rehearsals were due to begin.

Nicole dropped out, despite enjoying success in the part in the West End, to return to the X Factor judging panel, leaving Andrew furious.

Nicole Scherzinger in Cats
Nicole Scherzinger in Cats (Alessandro Pinna/Cats)

The Broadway return of the record-breaking musical officially opened at the Neil Simon Theatre on Sunday night.

Vulture's Jesse Green wrote: "Leona Lewis brings to the underwritten role only a few unsubtle top notes, which she offers ritually, as if they were dead mice.

"No greater ambition seems to have animated the revival as a whole."

The Wrap's Jason Clark wrote: "Although Brit songstress Leona Lewis is blessed with a divine pop belt perfect for the classic 11 o'clock number Memory, sadly she does not have the acting chops to put across Grizabella's tragic arc.

"Her Griz really needs a lot more... well, grizzle."

Dominic Cavendish wrote in The Daily Telegraph: "Leona Lewis's star-wattage is strong - but she needs to lose some of her sheen.

"Even in tear-stained mascara and smudged lipstick, dressed in decaying, ghost-grey furs, she could almost pass for a blemish-free prom queen."

Leona Lewis
Leona Lewis (Chris Pizzello/IAP)

He added: "Her singing voice is loud and clear, but a touch too serene, needing more of a hint of the gutter.

"Elaine Paige's originating performance has yet to be eclipsed...Lewis, appearing coached in her moves, looks (far more than Scherzinger did) like she's going through the motions."

The Guardian's Emma Brockes wrote: "Lewis has a beautiful voice, but when she performed Memory, she was not Grizabella the mangy old cat, but Leona Lewis, pop star and seller of 20 million records...

"A song sung on these terms can still be highly enjoyable, although in this case I found the performance of Memory rather stressful, particularly the crescendo at the end and the bits when Lewis listed dangerously to one side while doing some Acting. It was a relief when the story moved on."

The New York Times' Charles Isherwood wrote of Lewis: "Ms Lewis has a rich, powerful voice, and invests her rendition of the show's most famous song, the much-recorded, indisputably gorgeous Memory, with a fervent intensity.

"But when Grizabella ascends to that kitty-cat heaven, reincarnation centre or whatever it is, I couldn't help thinking that she was really going to hijack the tyre and fly to Las Vegas to open for Britney Spears.

"The lonely pathos of reminiscing about a life gone by is hard to put across when you look and sound as Ms Lewis does."

Variety's Marilyn Stasio wrote: "Memories could be fatal to this revival of Cats - specifically, the memory of Betty Buckley as Grizabella, singing Memory... Leona Lewis, the British pop star anointed by Andrew Lloyd Webber himself, isn't in her league."

Newsday's Linda Winer wrote: "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."

Time Out was unimpressed with the revival, giving it just two stars.

David Cote wrote: "British crooner Leona Lewis has a big, yearning voice, but even her (heavily amplified) yowling of Memory can't make the past worth revisiting."

But The Huffington Post's David Finkle was more positive, writing: "She's strong vocally and at the acting. In her eyes and bent walk is everything Grizabella knows about the ravages of life."

And NBC New York's Robert Kahn wrote: "Lewis tackles matters like a champ. The best way to approach a song like Memory, which has been covered by everyone from Streisand to Manilow, is with determined understatement. That's precisely what Lewis delivers."

Leona won the third series of The X Factor in 2006 and went on to achieve success with singles including Bleeding Love, Run and Better In Time.

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