Sunday, 7 March 2010

Cats ***1/2

Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Lyrics based on T.S. Eliot, Old Possums Book of Practical Cats, produced by Lunchbox, David Atkins and Really Useful Group.
Where and When: Regent Theatre, until March 28
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ***1/2

While the appeal of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, Cats, is unquestioned, we can ask how its flaws manage to outweigh its successes. 

The feline choreography is spectacular, the junkyard design, costumes and make-up are impressive, a couple of songs – especially Memory – are outstanding, the diverse characters echo the human world, and the lyrics and narrative are based around T.S. Eliot’s poems for children from Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, 1939.

On the other side of the balance sheet there are irritations: the poetic meter doesn’t scan well with the music, most of which is predictable, the narrative is flimsy, the villain, Macavity, is much anticipated but hardly seen, and Growltiger’s Last Stand is too long.

Ultimately, the flaws don’t affect its success. If you’ve been living underground for 30 years without musical theatre news, Cats opened to acclaim in 1981 in London, won endless awards and still runs worldwide. Who can argue with that?

The vivacity and relentless energy of this youthful chorus are highlights. Like their animal counterparts, these felines are alert, constantly moving. Gillian Lynne’s choreography successfully blends classical ballet with sassy jazz moves. The original direction by Trevor Nunn, creates vivid, recognisable catty characters that leap from the stage and Eliot’s page.

Eliot’s poems are strung like a washing line, one kitty character following another, linked by a fine narrative thread. We witness the Jellicle Cats in a rubbish yard celebrating their annual Jellicle Ball, a boisterous, outstanding choreographic feast after which the sage, Old Deuteronomy (John Ellis), announces which lucky cat will be awarded a tenth life. The tattered and outcast Grizabella, played with a warm voice and sensitivity by Delia Hannah, gives the production its heart. Memory remains the only song that lingers in our memories.

Memorable cats include the titillating Rum Tum Tugger, played with Frank’n’furter seductiveness by John O’Hara. Adrian Ricks’ balletic pirouetting as Mr. Mistoffelees is staggering and Laura McCulloch is charming as ginger cat, Jennyanydots. Michael-John Hurney’s big voice provides several characters.

We may not have the in-the-round staging of the original show, but these sensual kitties romp through the Regent, prowling between seats, mewing and purring and tickling audience members. We still get some of the sensurround of that original London production.

By Kate Herbert

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