It’s been twenty-five years since I last saw this show live, at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool in 1988 or 1989, and I have very strong and happy memories of the musical. I also have a soft spot for both the Original London Cast Recording and the film version which appeared in the late 1990s.
Some tweaks have been made to make the show more up-to-date – a new tap sequence for Jenny-Any-Dots’ beetle tattoo is fun, but the switch of Rum Tum Tugger from sexy Tom to annoying bling-laden rapper is a mis-step.
‘Cats’ is largely about the dancing, and it doesn’t really need star names to keep it going – there are some amazing young performers showcased here in the various solos (although with five or six understudies on this afternoon I can’t say for sure who was playing Jemima (I think Alice Jane), Rumpleteazer, Old Deuteronomy, Skimbleshanks (Dane Quixall?), Bombalurina (Cassie Clare) and others – if anyone knows for sure or needs to correct assumptions here please do). I do want to give a nod to Paul F Monaghan who works hard as both Bustopher Jones and a very enjoyable Gus/Growltiger, Callum Train as Munkustrap and Joseph Poulton who is a dazzling Mr Mistoffelees.
The pre-opening buzz has all been about the Pussycat Dolls singer Nicole Scherzinger, who plays the supporting role of Grizabella, and who has the ‘big number’, Memory. Although she can certainly hit that big note, I felt her voice was lacking in body in the rest of her role, and frankly, her vocal style doesn’t do it for me. I’ve been brought to tears before by this cat and her song, but not here.
The rubbish dump set might not revolve as it did in the old days, but the cats climb, stretch and emote as they ever did, and the ensemble singing in the numbers ‘Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats’, ‘Old Deuteronomy’ and ‘The Ad-dressing of Cats’ is excellent. The special effects might not look as spectacular as those in other shows – yes, Wicked, I am looking at you – but the hydraulics, trapeze work and lightning effects are fun.
I would recommend this show to new and old fans alike, and those of you who have feline friends at home will find yourself smiling in recognition at the antics portrayed within this show.