It’s nearly 30 years since that guy who did those Christian musicals got together with that director from the Royal Shakespeare Company to do a musical about the best domestic animal.

Lunchbox Theatrical Productions, David Atkins Enterprises in association with The Really Useful Company Asia Pacific
Regent Theatre

Saturday 6 March 2010

Delia Hannah and John EllisIt’s nearly 30 years since that guy who did those Christian musicals got together with that director from the Royal Shakespeare Company to do a musical about the best domestic animal.

Cats opened in the West End in 1981 with Elaine Paige singing “Memory” and a young Sarah Brightman’s purr attracted Andrew Lloyd Webber’s attention.

Cats shouldn’t have worked; it’s singing pussycat people prancing to old poems.

But it quickly won Oliver awards, the Broadway production won Tonys, it’s been performed in over 300 cities and the original show ran on the West End for a record-setting 21 years. Cats has been around for so long that it’s almost become a cliché of itself.

It’s about twenty two years since I caught the train to Melbourne to see Cats, with the cassette of original cast recording in my Walkman. This current production is my third viewing (not counting the 1998 film).

I love cats and I love Cats. The original creative team took everything they knew about music, theatre and story telling and created something so damn original that no one has been able to copy it. The story is minimal, but the individual character sub plots (TS Elliot’s poems) are what make people fall in love with this show. Gillian Lynne’s choreography still pounces like a kitten after a mousie and, even with the cringeable 80s synthesizer, you can’t help but sing Lloyd Webber’s tunes all the way home.

Has Cats dated? Oh, yes. Leg warmers and shiny Lycra might be so daggy that they are becoming cool again, but they firmly position Cats as a product of its time – and let’s not forget the flying saucer ascent to heaven.

Does this matter? Not at all. One day we will see a brand new production, but this is the one that set the bar for music theatre in the 1980s and without it we may never have seen the likes of Phantom or Les Miserables (or Starlight Express – which I liked, but please don’t bring it back).

The young cast bring as much energy and love to this Cats as any who went before them. They have the honour of introducing Grizabella, Rum Tum Tugger, Macavity and friends to a new generation of fans, but they really come together and grab their huge audience by the heart in the ensemble numbers.

As it is a touring version, they don’t have the power of a full orchestra for support and a theatre as huge as the glamorous Regent makes the show suffer from a lack of intimacy. (John Napier’s original design ensured that the audience were close enough to give strays an ear rub). As such, the overall story arc (Grizabella’s re-birth) gets lost and the full emotion the individual stories is hard to grasp if you’re so far away that all the cats look the same.

This is a problem of huge venues and touring budgets, so don’t let it stop you seeing Cats. If you love musical theatre and haven’t seen a professional production of this show – don’t let anything stop you seeing it and if it’s your favourite show, you know you have to go. Just try to get seats near the front to enjoy the full experience of stage full of gorgeous furry ferals.


Until 4 April, 2010

Anne-Marie Peard

Anne-Marie spent many years working with amazing artists at arts festivals all over Australia. She's been a freelance arts writer for the last 10 years and teaches journalism at Monash University.

Anne-Marie Peard

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