As upbeat and boisterous as it may be, Cats The Musical is a difficult musical to appreciate.
One of the longest-running Broadway musicals, Cats The Musical clinched seven Tony awards including ‘Best Musical’, and has been seen by more than 81 million people worldwide.
Revolving around the lives of the “Jellicle cats”, the premise of Cats is set in what seems like a junkyard as the show introduces the feline characters – the Jellicle cats – who congregate under a moonlight for an annual affair, the Jellicle Ball. Old Deuteronomy (played by Nicholas Pound), the wise leader of the pack, must pick only the most deserving cat to earn the coveted reward of ascending to a little piece of heaven called The Heaviside Layer. There, this chosen cat will be reborn into a new Jellicle life.
The cats filled the stage from one musical number to the next, clad in colourful, sleek unitards and sassy dancing. From the first act, the audience is introduced to the loud and boisterous Rum Tum Tugger (played by George Hinson), who got the felines purring in delight. At one point, he even caught a female audience off guard by getting her out of her seat for a twirl or two!
But the three-hour-long musical can be quite a drag to watch when you consider the fact that the show took its sweet time to introduce each cat, belting out songs after songs to distinguish one from another. If you entered the theatre anticipating for a climax in Cats, you would be sorely disappointed as there is no gripping narrative to follow in the musical.
By the time we get to the second act, it’s difficult to remember which character we were supporting for. While there are a few honourable sequences, such as the magician Mr Mistoffeless (played by Harry Francis) and mischievous havoc-wreakers MungoJerrie and Rumpelteazer (played by Joe Henry and Kirsty Ingram respectively), the vast majority of the second act was marred by repetitive performances that kept going on for way too long. We cannot wait for the Jellicle Choice to be made already.
Which, of course, was awarded to the lonely, dishevelled Grizabella (played by Joanna Ampil), who outshined her appearance to deliver the classic hit, “Memory”. While Joanna impressed with her flawless vocal delivery, it was regrettable that there was too little depth to her character for the audience to relate and be moved by her performance.
Like the cheery smiles and bright outfits, this production is ostentatious and all surface. As expected from composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, each song in the musical has a different style, which unfortunately did not seem to gel so well when one segues into the next.
While the storyline is not clear, you have to experience the show yourself to understand why it is such a long-standing musical. There is a strong emphasis on the physicality of the actors in Cats; whether it is the way the actors delivered the synchronised point choreography or how they personified their feline characters to give them their individuality on stage. There’s also a lot of great stage designs and imageries to bring you to a ‘T.S. Eliot-esque’ universe that is quite unlike any other musical.
Cats The Musical is enjoyable for the experience, but perhaps, this should not be one you should introduce to a first-time theatre-goer. And an additional word of caution: Don’t skimp on ticket prices too – watch Cats from the front row, or don’t watch it at all.
Photos courtesy of Alessandro Pinna (CATS Tour 2019 Photography)