T.S. Elliot’s book of poems, Old Possums Book of Practical Cats, inspired Andrew Lloyd Webber to put them to music and turn them into a musical. The show opened in May 1981 at the New London Theatre and ran for 21 years before closing in 2002. And now it’s back, for a limited 12 week run at the London Palladium this Christmas.
One night of the year, all the cats come together to decide which of them will ascend up into heaven and come back reborn. Each cat has their own personality and shows this through song. It’s a bit like a 1980’s version of X Factor (Cat Factor) where each feline has the opportunity sing and prove why they should be the one chosen to be reincarnated by Old Deuteronomy, the oldest and wisest of the cats.
The music is great and the choreography sensational. There is no doubt that every one of these performers are truly talented but I wonder, if the songs were removed and Cats was to be performed as a dance piece, would the story of the show be any less clear? A new addition to this production has been the introduction of the Rum Tum Tugger’s rap. A Justin Beiber/Michael Jackson style of song performed well by Antoine Murray-Straughan. I think a rapping cat fits nicely in amongst the other various styles in the show and helps to build new layers to the story.
The role of Grizabella is relatively small but vital to the story. She is an old glamour cat who turned her back on the others in search of fame and fortune. Now old and haggard she is returning, hoping the others will accept her back into the fold. Nicole Scherzinger’s is good, there is no question that she is able to play the part. However, having seen the recent UK tour, I can’t say she was any better than Sophia Ragavelas, raising the question whether celebrity casting was really necessary here (especially for a show that is so popular anyway).
Cats really is a show that requires strong performances from the entire cast and this production certainly holds that true. Gus: The Theatre Cat was adorably played by Paul F Monaghan (who also played Bustopher well) and Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer were a perfect pairing in Benjamin Yates and Dawn Williams.
If Cats were a brand new musical hitting the West End this Christmas the longevity of its run could be short. However, as one of the longest running shows, it holds many memories for the general public (many of who I overheard saying they had seen the original production as children and we’re delighted to get the opportunity to see it again as adults). It’s playful nature means it is a great show to take younger children to to expose them to the bright lights of the West End and keep them entertained for a couple of hours. They can even get their face painted like a cat before the show which is a lovely touch!
Cats has everything a great musical needs. Great set design, great cast, great music and great dancing. The only thing missing is a strong story line and one which could easily be missed by viewers not familiar with exactly what they are watching.
Reviewed by West End Wilma
Cats is currently booking at the London Palladium until 28 February 2015. Nicole Scherzinger is playing the role of Grizabella until 7 February when Sophia Ragavelas will resume the role.
A guide to the Cats in Cats (taken from Wikipedia)
- Asparagus / Gus – The theatre cat. One of the oldest tribe members. He was once an actor, and is one of two cats who is only seen during his song.
- Bombalurina – A red female. She is not the subject of a song herself, but plays a leading part in introducing several of the cats, and also sings of Macavity.
- Bustopher Jones – A fat cat, a “twenty-five pounder.” Dresses in a snappy tuxedo and spats. Respected by all, as the upper class “St. James’s Street Cat”. In most productions, the actor playing Gus also plays Bustopher, perhaps because both are only seen during their song, though in early productions the part was handled by the actor playing Old Deuteronomy.
- Demeter – A very skittish female cat. She is not the subject of a song, but plays a lead role in several.
- Grizabella – The former Glamour Cat who has lost her sparkle and now only wants to be accepted. Grizabella left the tribe when she was younger to see the world for herself; she has experienced the harshness of the world and is a pariah in the cats’ society.
- Griddlebone – A fluffy white Persian female cat. Growltiger’s lover in Growltiger’s Last Stand, where she sings The Ballad of Billy M’Caw or the mock Italian aria In Una Tepida Notte(depending on production) with Growltiger. Almost always played by the actress playing Jellylorum. In some productions the role is played by the actress playing Jennyanydots. “Growltiger’s Last Stand” was a play in which Gus, the Theatre Cat, acted, and a scene from it is used as a dream sequence, but it is omitted from some productions. Whether she is the same Griddlebone who is one of MacAvity’s agents is not known.
- Growltiger – A theatrical character Gus recalls playing in his youth, and who appears in Gus’ memory of the production of Growltiger’s Last Stand. In some productions he is portrayed as a vicious pirate; in others, he is more comical.
- Jellylorum – A female who watches out for the kittens, along with Jennyanydots. She is Gus’ mate. Named after T. S. Eliot’s own cat. The actress who plays Jellylorum usually also plays Griddlebone in Growltiger’s Last Stand.
- Jemima – A kitten interchangeable with Sillabub, though Jemima is used in most international productions. She is the kitten who sings the Memory refrain in The Moments of Happiness for Old Deuteronomy. Jemima sings the happier parts of Memory, while Grizabella sings the sadder parts. She is the first cat/kitten to accept Grizabella by singing with her and not judge her.
- Jennyanydots – The old Gumbie cat. She sits all day and rules the mice and cockroaches at night, forcing them to undertake helpful functions and creative projects, to curb their naturally destructive habits.
- Macavity – the show’s only real villain, who only appears briefly and has no dialogue. The character is a literary allusion to the Sherlock Holmescharacter Professor Moriarty. Usually played by the same actor as Plato or Admetus.
- Mr. Mistoffelees – A young black tom (with some white) who has magical powers which he doesn’t fully control. His signature dance move is “The Conjuring Turn”, twenty-four fouettés en tournant. In the UK production, Mistoffelees has an alter-ego named Quaxo, who appears as a general chorus cat throughout the show, and is dressed slightly differently.
- Mungojerrie – Male half of a pair of notorious cat-burglars, with Rumpleteazer. Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer are most commonly remembered for their featured dance number where at the end, they do a “double windmill” across the stage.
- Munkustrap – The show’s main narrator. A tabby tomcat who is storyteller and protector of the Jellicle tribe. He is Old Deuteronomy’s second-in-command.
- Old Deuteronomy – The lovable patriarch of the Jellicle Tribe. He is very old and dignified.
- Rumpleteazer – Female half of a pair of notorious cat-burglars, with Mungojerrie.
- The Rum Tum Tugger – A flashy tomcat. His temperament ranges from clownish to serious. He is Munkustrap’s brother, though they differ in temperament.
- Skimbleshanks – The railway cat. An active orange tabby cat, who lives on the trains and acts as an unofficial chaperone to such an extent he is considered rather indispensable to the train and station employees.
- Victoria – A pure white kitten gifted in dancing. The “official” Jellicle Ball begins with her solo dance. She also does a Pas de Deux with Plato during the Jellicle Ball. She is also the first to touch Grizzabella.
- Alonzo – A black and white tom cat in most productions; in the Broadway and early European productions, he was depicted as being a black and gold tabby. Sometimes considered the third in command after Munkustrap as he also fights Macavity. However, he is not the subject of any song, and has no dialogue.