“How do you address a cat?” is the questioned in T. S. Elliot’s short poetry collection Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. But just what is the answer?
As one of the longest-running shows in West End and Broadway, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s stunning work of drama, song and spectacle has enchanted audiences in over 300 cities around the world. And for one week only, a brand-spanking-new revival has found its way to Glasgow’s Kings Theatre in 2016.
The show begins with an introduction to a tribe of cats called the Jellicles on the night which they must make what is known as “the Jellicle choice” and decide which of the tribe will ascend to the Heaviside Layer, thus, be reborn into one of their many nine lives.
The musical is best known for the hit song Memory – a favourite in Higher Music classrooms across Scotland.
On a personal note, as well as simply appreciating the production for what it is today, the 1997 DVD live stage recording of Cats is the earliest ‘memory’ of music and theatre that I have. And, as all lovers of musical theatre will tell you, it’s fairly easy to become attached to “originals” or “favourites” in roles. The words “all-new” aren’t necessarily what I would call positive associations with musicals. This may be why I have certain issues with the 2016 revision of the show…
Rum-Tum-Tugger (played by Marcquelle Ward) – who is distinctly recognised as the sleazy, rock-loving cat adored widely by all female felines – has underwent, perhaps, the largest role change in musical history (slight exaggeration). In this tour revision, Rum-Tum-Tugger more closely resembles Eminem than Axl Rose. His tight, black and cheetah-print leotard has been replaced with jeans and a sleeveless top, and where a voluminous mane of hair should have been a snapback now resides along with some seriously blingy gold jewellery.
While the more up-to-date revision of the role now resonates more closely with popular music today than, say, an 80s rock legend, the entire thing felt quite out of place in this predominantly neo-classical music production. Having said this, Marcquelle Ward, who plays him, is clearly outstanding in all areas of performance including dance, song and rap.
However, more positives. The entire spectacle of the show is still at its usual level of visual astonishment. Few moments in theatre rival the ones in which the entire Jellicle cast are gathered on stage together, their many colours and patterns, distinguishing features and piercing eyes, communicating their story to the audience in unison with a clear shared love for who they are.
Some of the best ensemble numbers included Mr. Mistoffelees, Skimbleshanks (The Railway Cat) and The Jellicle Ball. Saving the best for last, it would not be absurd to assume that Marianne Benedict’s rendition of Memory as Grizabella brought the house down.
The song, which Elaine Paige of the DVD recording continues to perform at her concerts world wide even today, is one of the most popular songs in musical theatre history.
Benedict’s passion in her story-telling was evident from the very first note. Despite having some very high expectations to meet from the audience she, quite clearly, sustained the longest applause of the show.
Altogether a fantastic production with some new twists and turns which will likely keep the show at the forefront of musical theatre in 2016.
Oh, and by the way, you don’t address a cat: they address you.