CATS... Still a feline phenomenon!
Yesterday afternoon I looked out of my bathroom window to witness a little Jellicle Ball in full flow on our conservatory roof! Four cats had gathered there and were staring right back at me through the glass. This Alfred Hitchcock-esque scene only whetted my appetite further for the evening ahead's activities. I was finally off to the London Palladium to see Andrew Lloyd Webber's 1981 musical CATS... in all its glory!
I had never seen a West End production of CATS and, having already seen a couple of television appearances by former Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger belting out Lloyd Webber anthems, I felt it was a match made in 'The Heaviside Layer'!
At the Royal Variety Performance in 2011, as part of the 25th Anniversary of The Phantom of the Opera, Scherzinger performed the title song alongside four former Phantoms, and in 2013, she sang Evita's "Don't Cry For Me Argentina" for an Andrew Lloyd Webber TV special. Finally this 'odd couple' pairing has brought her to the West End stage.
I can't believe CATS is actually older than I am, yet the Palladium was packed to the rafters last night. I'm sure having a star join the cast boosted hype and ticket sales for the production, but I honestly feel that the show is such a phenomenon, it would have done well with or without the 'shamazing' one as Grizabella the Glamour Cat.
Being able to mount the musical on such a grand scale was indeed a treat at the Palladium, extending the set more than usual and employing an impressive new backdrop and video projections. Sat in the third row of the Stalls, I really did feel like the cat that got the cream! (Apologies in advance for all the remainder of feline puns, I can't resist to use in this blog!)
A notable update was the character of Rum Tum Tugger, played by a spritely Antoine Murray-Straughan. He was still a 'curious cat,' but his curiosity now resembled something along the lines of a Lil' Bow Wow, if you remember him? (Or Lil' Meow Meow perhaps?... I warned you!) As he rapped and streetdanced his way through his big number, I chuckled to myself, because entertaining as it was, I couldn't help but think the good Lord is trying to be 'down with the kids.' I expect he would have achieved this... but he's about ten years too late.
And Pussycat Scherzinger did not disappoint. My out of body experience during "Memory" towards the end of Act 2, was worth the price of admission alone, and kudos to her for shying away from a 'big diva final bow' moment. She unassumingly took her bow halfway through the curtain call, highlighting the show as an ensemble piece, in which every cat has his or her moment. What a doll!
Last night, I wondered how this oddball of a musical became such a phenomenon in the first place. If Lord Webber had written it today, would it be as much of a success or would he be laughed out of the West End? In a way, I'm exceedingly glad that CATS was brought to life in the early eighties. Audiences had never seen anything quite like it, and it also helped to slay a perhaps unfair American view that 'Brits can't dance.' The industry accepted its mastery too, awarding it the 1981 Laurence Olivier Award for Best Musical and recognising Dame Gillian Lynne's choreography efforts with an Outstanding Achievement in a Musical award on top. In 1983, the Broadway production picked up seven Tony Awards over the pond, including Best Musical, cementing a global takeover for Mister Mistoffelees and company.
Audiences nowadays demand so much more from new musicals, and to grab a mass audience's attention seems somewhat of an ongoing mystery to many writers and producers. However, already established classics are lovingly revisited time and time again - perhaps now with punters bringing their own children to experience the same visual delight as they did in their youth. Of course, I'm not saying CATS is loved by one and all. Indeed I have a fair few friends that can't stand it and I myself admit it is the ultimate 'Marmite Musical,' but obviously those who do love it are numerous and loyal enough to merit its constant revivals.
In summary, in my eyes, last night was a real taste of musical purrrrrrfection! (I'll stop now!)
Sub-Editor at Londontheatre.co.uk & NewYorktheatreguide.com