Macbeth, Act 4, Scene 1
So I’m guessing you all may have heard of a little tiny musical named Cats? That’s right, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ground-breaking show is back (with a few minor adjustments) at the London Palladium, and boy is it a big production. With fairy lights extending into the auditorium, a huge tiger poster in the middle of the enormous Palladium stage, and, of course, ‘cats’ crawling out left, right, and centre, this is the ultimate West End spectacular.
I’d never seen Cats before, and actually only knew one of the songs (Memory, of course!), so the almost whole thing was a complete revelation for me. For those of you equally ignorant, Cats is an unusual musical as it doesn’t really have a plot; it’s more a series of character studies of each of the different ‘Jellicle Cats’ who meet under the ‘Jellicle Moon’ once a year, where one of them is chosen to be reborn. The lyrics (excepting Memory) are almost all taken from T.S. Eliot’s poetry collection Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, so they’re perhaps a little less formulaic and predictable than your usual musical fare (not that I’m slamming that, cheesy music is the greatest).
The characters themselves are great – each with their own high octane dance number and own backstory. The most famous are Magical Mr Mistoffelees (Joseph Poulton) who does an absolutely amazing ‘conjuring turn’ involving twenty-four fouettés en tournant (see example to the side), and Skimbleshanks (Ross Skinnie), with his very personable dance number as the indispensable Railway Cat. My personal favourites were Rumpelteazer (Dawn Williams) and Mungojerrie (Benjamin Yates) as quasi-Thernardier cat burglars who ‘double windmill’ across the stage; and also Asparagus the stage cat (Paul F Monaghan) who reminisces about his past great performances – although the dream/memory Growltiger sequence didn’t really add much to the production as a whole.
If you’ve heard of this production, you will have heard of Nicole Scherzinger’s starring role as Grizabella the Glamour Cat; or rather the ex-glamour cat, an outcast during the Jellicle ball whom no one will dare touch or talk to. I was just a little dubious when I first heard about this casting move, given the sheer power of Memory, and the fact that I’d never really heard Scherzinger sing outside of the Pussycat Dolls. Yes, the reviews and her performance on the Graham Norton Show raised my hopes ever so slightly higher, but I went still doubtful. In this production, Scherzinger absolutely smashed my doubts into smithereens. The last verse of her key song was belted with such emotion and such power I actually got shivers – and that really doesn’t happen very often. It was really the highlight of the show for me, and I have so much respect for her to be able to do that almost every single night.
The rest of the cast also have powerful voices, (although perhaps it was just my bad hearing but I couldn’t always hear all of the words), and the new rap song by Rum Tum Tugger was very well done by Antoine Murray-Straughan. The spoken section at the beginning where all the cats speak in rhythm together was a little hard to understand though, so that would be something to work on. Natasha Mould as Jemima, the cat who sings the happier parts of Memory, had a lovely sweet voice, which contrasted well with Scherzinger’s powerhouse.
The dancing, however, was what really impressed me. Every single member of cast was constantly full of energy, and constantly in cat-mode. Even when they were just watching others dance or sing round the sides, they were still incredibly feline from head to toe. Just watching them move is fascinating, let alone when they show off their impressive skills in huge dance numbers which take up the whole stage.
As you can tell, I really enjoyed this production, and it’s a great typically-West End production to take tourists to see; I can’t imagine many musical fans who won’t enjoy it! The cast are fantastically energetic, and there are some brilliant moments, although a very few slightly unnecessary dance numbers. If you want a great plot, then this really isn’t the one for you. The only real bit of drama is the appearance of Macavity, who never actually speaks or sing, and who attempts to kidnap Old Deuteronomy, the wise leader of the Jellicles. However, his behaviour is solved only about two songs later, so there really isn’t any suspense or anything.
No, the reason to see this production is just to wonder at what musical theatre performers can do; to see the triple threats in action and, of course, to hear Scherzinger’s singing (I’m sure Kelly Ellis, who is taking over soon, will do an equally amazing job though!). The only thing to look out for is the incredibly loud audience, but that’s just something that comes with the West End –celeb casting status of the production I suppose. Although for some reason this didn’t leave me particularly moved, or particularly thoughtful in anyway, I still thought it was incredibly well done. A very impressive production, of a famously ground-breaking musical.
Cats at the London Palladium: 5/5 stars