One night every year, a group of cats get together to pick one deserving puss to send up to heaven to be reincarnated. That’s about as much of a story as there is for Cats which is based on T S Elliot’s book ‘Possums Book of Practical Cats’. A selection of poems about… you’ve guessed it, Cats. In my last review of the show I described it as a feline type X Factor where each cat performs to try to win a place in the final and then Simon Cowell/Old Deuteronomy decides on a winner.
Andrew Lloyd Webber put these poems to music and in 1981 the show opened at the New London Theatre in London where it ran for twenty one years. Last Christmas saw a limited return of the show at the London Palladium where it will return again this year for the festive season. Ahead of that though, the show is playing a summer season at Blackpool’s Winter Gardens Theatre with cruise ship singer and loose woman Jane McDonald playing the iconic role of Grizabella.
I thought Jane McDonald was an odd choice to play the leading lady role in this production (having recently started Nicole Scherzinger and Kerry Ellis in London) but after seeing her, I don’t think she could have been better cast. Her singing was undeniably good and she sang the songs as well as anyone would expect them to be sung. Her acting skills could use a little work compared to other people who have played the role but the audience don’t seem to care. Jane McDonald seems to be an icon for the North of England and she received such a long standing ovation after her performance of Memory that it is undeniable that the audience loved it.
When discussing the musical Cats, a common question that gets asked is ‘who is your favourite cat?’ Mine is never usually a common choice but I love Gus the Theatre Cat and Paul F Monaghan played the part perfectly. Harry Francis and Georgie Leatherland were a great cockney comedy duo as Mungeojerrie and Rumpleteaser and Evan James took us all on a train journey together as Skimbleshanks. The stand out performance in the show was Jack Butterworth as the Rum Tum Tugger. Not only was his rapping great but in other songs he showed what a great singing voice he has and acted the part to perfection.
Cats is very dated with 80’s synthesisers and space ships that look like something out of an 80’s film but with such great love for the show why would you change anything? People love it just the way it is. It’s a bit bonkers and not everyone’s cup of tea but it is a great show if you can appreciate it. It’s also great if you just want to look at humans dressed as cats.
Reviewed by West End Wilma
Cats is playing at the Winter Gardens Theatre in Blackpool until 5 September 2015.