Cats is sheer theatrical joy. I doubt I have I have ever seen a company so committed to making this piece work so effectively. The entire Cats cast should be congratulated for bringing this exciting production to life on its current European Tour.
Having said that, the basis for a great night of theatre has always been there; from the moment the choreographer, Gillian Lynne, used her sheer genius to conceive of a way to bring these feline characters onto the stage, she simply added to the wonderful text by T.S.Elliot, the music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and the stewardship by Trevor Nunn.
T S Eliot writer of The Book of Practical Cats’
I can only imagine what it must have been like to try and launch such an adventurous concept more than thirty years ago. The team who brought us Cats were brave and bold, as there were many who doubted it’s merit, but it is the choreography that is the true art to this show. Which makes me wonder why Cameron Mackintosh has decided to stage his new version for Broadway with choreography, although based on the original, by Andy Blankenbuehler.
I am confused by this decision because I can see many arguments for “re-visiting” the direction, design or orchestrations. Andrew Lloyd-Webber has adjusted his score many times, even adding a rap song for Rum Tug Tugger, in his latest incarnation, that is in no way an improvement on the originals one. It appears to me that it is the one female on the creative team, who I would say has contributed the most value to the equation, that must now share billing.
The real challenge to staging a great production of Cats is not in whether it needs updating, although I concede that some of the new band arrangements and sound samples are welcome, it is in the casting. You need only look down the list at some of the truly talented, nameless performers who have inhabited the many roles throughout the years, and then notice that the real challenge is in casting a strong ensemble. If one does that, this show will fly, and fly it did last night.
Anita Louise Combe playing Grizabella was a revelation. Last seen in Gypsy, as one of the strippers, who knew that she had such a belting voice? Memory must surely be one of the most difficult theatre songs to pull off. To perform it, the way it is intended, is to expose one’s acting ability and vocal dexterity in equal measure. Anita was a fragile and yet dignified Grizabella, not able to give in, willing herself on, teetering on the brink. The solo dance at the end of act one is simply heart breaking. Anita’s experience shone through. Her character had danced these steps a million times before, and enjoyed every minute. She was simply no longer able.
There are many cameos in Cats that stand out, as they should, the structure of the show being more like a role-call than a traditional narrative. Greg Castiglioni as Bustopher/Growltiger, and even Asparagus, was as good as it gets. His discipline of playing the text, and not the laughs, made him even more funny. I doubt that I have every seen a better characterization. Celia Graham as Jellylirum/Griddlebone and Lucinda Shaw as Jennyanydots were delightful to watch with fine voices.
What was remarkable was that so many of the roles that often sink into the background were present and alive. Matt Krzan must be the finest Munkustrap I have ever seen. His towering physicality was feline and leader in equal measure; always there and always committed. Lee Greenway had me smiling and cheering for a Skimbleshanks. He was so thoroughly likeable, and his movements so precise that the second act, and his part in it, flew by. Macavity is a terribly difficult part to pull off but Javier Cid gave a physical presence much greater than his own by sheer energy and precision.
Cats begins with a solo by Sophia Mc Avoy, as the white cat. She dares the audience not be drawn into her enchanting world. That she came back in the opening of Act Two with Josh Andrews as Alonzo in a mesmerising moment that exemplified the ‘Moments of Happiness‘ was another treat. I was as spellbound as the four year old girl next to me who’s eyes were wide, in love with the White Cat. Everyone in this cast is a valuable asset. Bravo.
I first saw Cats thirty years ago. I was as enthralled then as we all were. The spell that it cast in every territory of the world, that it subsequently visited, was almost unprecedented. And it goes on. I was caught by surprise last night. I did not expect to be so enthralled, and I was delighted, like the young child beside me, to be transported into this musical feline world. I was also surprised when I read of Cameron Macintosh’s decision to re-choreograph this show. The towering achievement of this show has always been Gillian Lynne’s vision.