'And he says as he scratches himself with his claws:
"Well, the theatre is certainly not what it was..."'
This lyric, delivered nostalgically by Gus the Theatre Cat in Act II, now hits the modern audience with undeniable irony, as the theatre (in the case of this return engagement of 'Cats' at the London Palladium) is indeed just what it was.
Andrew Lloyd Webber prepares to launch his latest project - 'School of Rock: The Musical' - on Broadway next month at the Winter Garden Theatre, which in turn was home to his stateside production of 'Cats' from 1982 to 2000. However, with this West End revival and a rumoured Broadway transfer of 'Cats,' it's simply not a case of "Ring out the old, ring in the new," when it comes to the Lord.
Of course, little has changed since last year's run at the Palladium, with the obvious exception of Beverley Knight in the role of Grizabella instead of Nicole Scherzinger (and later Kerry Ellis). But why break a formula that has worked since 1981? A few updates were made to the production last year and they have remained for this return engagement, including those marvellous (and non-distracting) projected backdrops. Rum Tum Tugger (a spritely Marcquelle Ward) returns with the new Hip Hop persona, breakdancing in front of the grafitti-covered backdrop, which reads "Grittier Music" just to spell it out to the audience. Yes, he does look like Snoop Dogg's protégé Lil' Bow Wow in his pyjamas, so I'm not quite sure how gritty he could possibly be, but he does add a new element which attracts younger members of the audience.
Special mentions go to Paul F Monaghan and Clare Rickard (as Asparagus and Jellylorum) for their rendition of "Gus: The Theatre Cat" - one of the most touching and heartfelt numbers of the evening. And then there's Grizabella... Beverley Knight, the "Queen of British Soul," is certainly on the right path to becoming the "Queen of the West End" too. I applaud her for leaving her comfort zone of her recent Soul/RnB/Pop-infused musicals of 'The Bodyguard' and 'Memphis' and taking on a classic show tune in the form of "Memory." Although perhaps not quite a natural in terms of the feline choreography and movement on stage, her vocals more than make up for this. The audience bursting into applause as she hits the climax of the show-stopping show-tune is surely testament to this. I look forward to following the career of Ms Knight with delight and witness her growth as an actress of the stage.
Yes, the plot of 'Cats' has always been paper-thin and yes, those tinny synthesisers sometimes do sound like they should have been left in the 80s, but then again, that is the beauty of this show. We are reminded of that unforgettable era in musical theatre history, where Britannia ruled the (musical) waves. This 2015 revival proves that Dame Gillian Lynne's choreography is not at all dated, but as fresh as ever. Indeed the show's power lies in the scenes of the twenty-strong ensemble dancing in unison and filling the stage of the Palladium. And in my humble opinion, there's no better stage for this production.
'Cats' remains as entertaining and as unique a show as ever, with choreography that is simply purr-fect!
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"It’s Knight’s third musical on the trot and she is absolutely wonderful...singing with touching sensitivity and nuanced musicality rather just belting it out."
Rupert Christiansen for The Telegraph
"Beverley Knight gets her claws into the part."
Sam Marlowe for The Times
External links to full reviews from popular press