On Wednesday past (3rd April) I was down at the Manchester Opera House to see the 2013 UK/Europe touring production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic musical, CATS.
I should mention from the off that CATS will always hold a very special place in my heart. I first fell in love with the show around twenty years ago (crikey!) at the age of around seven or eight when we performed the show at our primary school, and also got to see the show on tour. It was my very first exposure to musical theatre and I credit it entirely with my near life-long obsession with the world of musical theatre. I even put on my own half-decent production of CATS as a teenager!
It was therefore with great excitement and a little sense of trepidation that I took my seat on Wednesday evening, expecting the best, but fearing the worst.
I absolutely need not have worried though – the show has not been changed in any way from previous and it had fully retained its integrity! None of these modern re-workings that have plagued similar Andrew Lloyd Webber shows in recent years have crept in, thankfully.
Of course, some may view this to the show’s detriment, as it does look and feel every bit of its thirty years if I am truly honest. Similar shows from the period have received modern-day revamps, whereas CATS was so iconic and wonderfully staged in the first place, that I really don’t think that you could even start to modernise it, it would surely be impossible! This, along with many other reasons, is why I find it so comfortingly familiar and love it so dearly!
The staging was, as ever, a real delight and I would rank the CATS set as one of my favourites in musical theatre if honest. A simple yet really versatile bit of kit that whilst remaining largely static really does keep the show, which often becomes a little surreal/goes off at a tangent, held together and provides a great ‘anchor’. I really liked the little backwards nod that the 2013 set gives to the original designer, John Napier, on the car number plate.
I had never seen Growltiger’s Last Stand performed on the stage before as I’ve found that previously this is usually one of the first numbers that they cut/choose not to stage, however I really enjoyed watching it, and also seeing the additional staging elements that I’d not seen previously.
There was a lot more of the cats coming in to the audience this time around than I remember previously, so do be warned, if you happen to slip out to make use of the bathroom, you had better take care not to bump in to dear Old Deuteronomy or any of the others waiting in the wings!!
Cast wise, I thought that everyone was fantastic. I wouldn’t really want to pull anybody out over anybody else as the whole beauty of CATS is that the cat is the star, and not the actor. If you’ve yet to see the show, do keep an eye on all of the ‘ensemble’ cats too, as they all have their own little cute mannerisms and little tales.
One thing that I will say, however, and in slight contradiction to the above, is that musical theatre legend, Joanna Ampil, is sensational! I got all the expected goosebumps and more from her performance as Grizabella. It was truly a treat to get to see such an established name on the touring circuit and I would love to see her continue to become more involved with touring theatre wherever possible.
As with any show that I seemingly see, I have developed a new theatre crush – this time it is the turn of Cameron Ball – who plays Macavity/Admetus haha!
Of course, CATS is one of those shows that happens to collect up all of the best bums in musical theatre and put them on display – after all, if you’re going to appear in CATS, you have to be very well prepared for the tight-fitting costumes (and the associated comments, ha!). Alas, those costumes and their inability to flatter my thunder-thighs – along with my inability to actually sing and dance – are why appearing in a professional production of CATS will, sadly (or thankfully!), never happen for me!
Unfortunately, Max was one of those people who “just didn’t get” CATS and found that it was all just a bit bizarre and had too much interpretive dance (I for one thought that Gillian Lynne’s original choreography was sensational as ever – kudos to Chrissie Cartwright for re-creating this so nicely!). I should add that this does seem to be the opinion of many people – I think most either fall in to this category, or else become massive fanboys of the show, like myself. There’s not often a middle ground opinion – it is quite polarizing.
Regardless, I love that this show is at the core of my love of musical theatre and would not change that for the World. It was an immense treat to see the show on tour again, and I am absolutely loving having all of the CATS/’The Memory Returns’ advertising plastered all over the city at the moment.
If you have the opportunity to see the show, I’d very much urge you to take it. Sure, it’s not the most modern piece of theatre that you will ever see, but what it is, however, is a puuuurfect (see what I did there?!) example of the origins of musical theatre as we know it today, and a genuine opportunity to see something that is authentically dated, rather than staged to be that way.
I had a fantastically magical night, and not just thanks to Mister Mistoffelees – the conjuring cat! I’d recommend it to all reading as a fantastic musical and a great night out/celebration of musical theatre at it’s finest.
CATS is currently playing at the Manchester Opera House until Saturday 20th April, after which time it continues to tour the UK and Europe. For all production information, including tour dates and ticketing options, please visit the official tour website.
The show duration is around two hours and thirty minutes, including interval (during which, Old Deuteronomy stays on stage and signs programmes – bit odd to watch, but get in quickly as there was a lot of demand for it once people realised that they were allowed to queue to go up).
Associated tweets from the night: