34 years ago, a ground-breaking production opened at The New London Theatre and almost overnight became a legend of Musical Theatre. The show was, of course “Cats! and after 8,949 performances it finally closed in London in 2002 but not before it had conquered the world. In December 2014, “Cats” re-opened at The London Palladium and, following a recent cast change I went along to see how the old show was standing up.
Based on T. S. Eliot, ‘Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats’ set to music by Andrew Lloyd Webber “Cats” tells the story of a group of felines, the Jellicle cats, that come together once a year for the Jellicle Ball. The culmination of the night is when Old Deuteronomy (Nicholas Pound) chooses the cat to go to the Heavyside Layer to be reborn to a new jellicle life. However, before getting to that point, there is marvelous journey for the audience to take. Starting with stating the obvious, humans really don’t understand cats – and if you’ve ever ‘owned’ one you will easily identify with that sentiment – and certainly don’t know about their three individual names, we move on being introduced to various cats such as that haughty moggie about town, Bustopher Jones, (Paul F Monaghan), the irrepressible pair of cat burglars Mungojerrie (Benjamin Yates) and Rumpelteazer (Dawn Williams) and the rapping Rum Tum Tugger (Antoine Murray-Straughan). Life is pretty idyllic for the Jellicle cats except for the presence of two members of their community, the old decrepit ‘glamour cat’ Grizabella (Kerry Ellis) and the evil Macavity (Cameron Ball). The other cats shun the former and are terrified – especially the young ones – of the latter who continues to threaten their very existence. At one point it looks like Macavity will win through, but thanks to the fighting skills of Munkustrap (Callum Train) and Alonzo (Adam Lake) and the magic of Mistoffelees (Joseph Poulton) Macavity is defeated and Old Deuteronomy is able to send a cat to be reborn.
Reviewing “Cats” is hard work. It almost feels sacrilegious to criticise any aspect of this timeless show and luckily I don’t have to. It was obvious as I entered the auditorium and saw John Napier’s amazing junkyard set extending from the stage out towards the stalls that this was going to be good. Did I say good? I meant awesome! The lights went down and the overture started and suddenly we were surrounded by cats with flashing eyes making their way to the stage through a theatre lit from top to bottom for a party where the fun never stopped. Director Trevor Nunn and Choreographer Gillian Lynne keep everyone on their toes – literally in the case of the cast – with a wonderful mix of movement and dance styles that left me exhausted just watching. The words and music are simply magic and the combination of all the elements make this such a wonderful show. There have been changes from the original – and this is good for shows should be organic in some respects – but there are also elements that have to be there. For example Victoria the White Cat’s (Hanna Kenna Thomas) solo dance which is the start of the Jellicle Ball, Mungojerrie & Rumpelteazer’s Double Windmill and of course Mistoffelees 24 fouettes en tournant (and, yes I did count them).
And then there is that moment that, no matter how much you love the show overall, you have been waiting for since the little teaser in Act I – out comes Grizabella (Kerry Ellis) to totally steal the show with ‘Memory’. Interestingly, this is the only song in the show not taken directly from the works of Eliot but was written by ALW and Trevor Nunn. To be honest, it doesn’t matter who wrote it, Kerry Ellis gave it everything she had and there was barely a dry eye in the house by the last note.
So there you have it. Combine timeless writing, faultless direction and choreography, a dedicated, enthusiastic, energetic and highly talented cast, one of musical theatre’s most legendary actresses, a truly awesome signature song and what do you get? You get a reviewer running out of superlatives and an iconic show that was loved by an audience covering every age group and, going by the reaction at the end, “Cats” will never die but will go on forever.
One word of advice if you do go, get there early and go into the Jellicle Ballroom, its open two hours before the show starts and is simply magical.
Review by Terry Eastham
Based on T. S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, Cats has returned to the West End with the original creative team – Director Trevor Nunn, Associate Director and Choreographer Gillian Lynne, Designer John Napier and Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber – reunited for the Palladium run.
Cats current West End cast comprises Cameron Ball (Macavity/Admetus), Kathryn Barnes (Tantomile), Cassie Clare (Cassandra), Kerry Ellis(Grizabella), Ross Finnie (Skimbleshanks), Charlene Ford (Bombalurina), Stevie Hutchinson (Pouncival), Adam Lake (Alonzo), Paul F Monaghan (Bustopher Jones/Asparagus/Growl Tiger), Joel Morris (Carbucketty), Natasha Mould (Jemima), Benjamin Mundy (Coricopat), Antoine Murray-Straughan (Rum Tum Tugger), Joseph Poulton (Quaxo/Mistoffelees), Nicholas Pound (Old Deuteronomy), Sophia Ragavelas (alternate Grizabella), Clare Rickard (Jellylorum/ Griddlebone), Adam Salter (Bill Bailey), Laurie Scarth (Jennyanydots), Hannah Kenna Thomas (Victoria/White Cat), Callum Train (Munkustrap), Zizi Strallen (Demeter), Dawn Williams (Rumpleteazer) and Benjamin Yates (Mungojerrie) who are joined by swings Ryan Gover, Barry Haywood, Alice Jane, Grace McKee, Dane Quixall and Libby Watts.
Cats, one of the longest-running shows in West End and on Broadway, received its world premiere at the New London Theatre in 1981 where it played for 21 record-breaking years and almost 9,000 performances. The production was the winner of the Olivier and Evening Standard Awards for Best Musical. In 1983 the Broadway production became the recipient of seven Tony awards including Best Musical, and ran for eighteen years. Since its world premiere, Cats has been presented in over 30 countries, has been translated into 10 languages and has been seen by over 50 million people world-wide. Both the original London and Broadway cast recordings won Grammy Awards for Best Cast Album. The classic Lloyd Webber score includes Memory which has been recorded by over 150 artists from Barbra Streisand and Johnny Mathis to Liberace and Barry Manilow.
6th December 2014 – 25th April 2015
Evenings: Monday to Saturday 7.30pm
Matinees: Wednesday and Saturday 2.30pm
Thursday 19th February 2015