Leona Lewis looks purr-fect in her debut on the Great White Way.
The “Bleeding Love” singer stars as Grizabella, “The Glamour Cat,” in the upcoming Broadway revival of Cats – and PEOPLE has an exclusive look at Lewis in feline form.
“With Cats, it’s always been that we have to do our own makeup so that we transform ourselves into the cat – it’s part of the process,” Lewis tells PEOPLE exclusively. “We got a bunch of tutorials on it.”
And as it turns out, the musical holds a special place in the singer’s heart, as she saw the original production in London as a child.
“I remember, after the show, asking my singing teacher if I could learn ‘Memory,’ so I learned it when I was quite young,” she recalls. “But I never thought I’d be playing her.”
And Lewis even received some kind words from the original Grizabella – and her fellow Englishwoman – Elaine Paige.
“She’s incredible, and I just chatted to her,” says Lewis. “She just wished me luck and told me to have fun with it!”
The production is now in previews and will open on July 31 at the Neil Simon Theatre in New York City.
The star said when rehearsals began in the theater, the role got real for her.
“The first day when we got into the theater and actually saw the set as my favorite part, going into and being fully immersed in the world where we’re performing in,” says Lewis. “The stage is basically a junkyard, and everything is scaled to cat-size. So we’ve got huge cereal boxes and different kinds of junk pieces in the yard, scaled to size, and it’s just insane, the intricate scenery.”
The Andrew Lloyd Webber-composed musical – which made its debut on London’s West End in 1981 – has a storied history on both the Broadway stage and in musical theater history. Based on T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, Cats is the fourth-longest-running Broadway production, having garnered seven Tony Awards after opening in 1982 and playing 7,485 performances over 18 years.
“The classic Cats, which I saw when I was 9, was just so breathtaking and mesmerizing,” Lewis told PEOPLE of the musical at the Tony Awards last month. “So it’s staying true to the original, but they’re injecting a bit of freshness into it, which I’m really excited about. Even in rehearsals, I’ll sit and watch what’s going on and get really, really excited about it.”
“Leona has one of the greatest voices of her generation,” Webber, 68, said in May of the latest Cats lead. “We are all hugely excited about working with her.”
Lewis follows a fellow pop star in taking on the role of Grizabella. Former Pussycat Dolls chanteuse Nicole Scherzinger starred in the 2014 Cats London revival, for which she was nominated for the best actress Laurence Olivier Award last year.
Click here for a complete list of showtimes for Cats on Broadway.