FLASH FRIDAY: CATS Claws Its Way Back To The West End
Today, in honor of this week's kick-off of the first West End revival of world renowned mega-musical CATS we serve up a fancy feline feast fit for Mr. Mistoffelees himself.
Let The Memory Live Again
The most ubiquitous and universally regarded musical of the 1980s was undoubtedly Andrew Lloyd Webber's idiosyncratic and game-changing dance musical based on T.S. Elliot's OLD POSSUM'S BOOK OF PRACTICAL CATS titled, simply, CATS. Just as "Tomorrow" from ANNIE was the breakout hit Broadway song of the previous decade, score standout "Memory" was virtually (and sonically) impossible to avoid during the era - due in no small part to Barbra Streisand's huge hit single cover of the song, not to mention the indelible performances of it given on Broadway eight times a week for the majority of the decade by a bevy of legendary leading ladies; Betty Buckley, Laurie Beechman and Liz Callaway among them. Yet, what exactly is it about CATS that made it the longest-running musical of all time - only to be usurped by Lloyd Webber's own THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA post-millennium?
First and foremost, undoubtedly a large part of the success of CATS is due to the smart source material. Few word-smiths could conjure up the vast array of immediately arresting, startlingly surprising, warm-heartedly affectionate and just plain entertaining cast of characters and scenarios as Elliot did in his volume of poems ostensibly intended for children. Jaunty and jovial pieces like "Macavity: The Mystery Cat" and "Rum Tug Tugger" are matched with impressively thought-provoking and heart-tugging entries such as "Gus, The Theatre Cat", "Old Deuteronomy" and the abandoned sketches that Webber and Trevor Nunn utilized to fashion the lyrics for last-minute addition "Memory". Then, there are epic statements of bombast and brio such as "The Naming Of Cats" and "Growltiger's Last Stand", among others.
The versatility of the words is matched note for note by the wide swath of musical genres explored in Lloyd Webber's rich and inventive score. Ranging from greasy 80s rock ("Rum Tum Tugger") to outright operetta ("Growltiger's Last Stand") to light jazz ("Macavity") to pure Broadway razzmatazz ("Mr. Mistoffelees") to touching character numbers ("Bustopher Jones: The Cat About Town"), exciting group choruses ("The Song Of the Jellicles") and epic anthems ("Memory"), Lloyd Webber showcased his dexterity and chameleon-like composing abilities with the varied and vivid score for CATS. It's a stunner, for sure.
To add to it all, Gillian Lynne's iconic cat-like choreography - complete with paw-licking and crawling about the stage and auditorium itself - as well as John Napier's peerless physical production and Trevor Nunn's assured and expressive direction combined to create the theatrical event of the decade. Well, at least until PHANTOM came along, that is.
Now, with Lloyd Webber, Lynne, Napier and Nunn re-teaming to bring CATS back to the West End for a whole new generation to experience - including some score updates and general show refreshing, such as a rapping Rum Tum Tugger - the time is right to revisit some of the finest moments from the fun and furry history of CATS as we look ahead to a new edition and even a possible film version, too.
Soon It Will Be Morning
Now, let's look at the best and brightest CATS highlights from its long decades-spanning legacy thus far.
First, see the sordid and anomalous history of CATS as represented in the excellent recent theatrical documentary THE STORY OF MUSICALS.
Also, view the music video for "Memory" by Barbra Streisand.
Next, sample footage of the original West End production of CATS.
Now, see Betty Buckley stop the show with "Memory" and receive her 1983 Tony Award for the Broadway bow.
Buckley revisits CATS along with some other legendary Broadway divas at the Tony Awards in 1998.
After that, see Elaine Paige recreate her original performance of "Memory" in the CATS home video.
Plus, Mega-musical superstar Lea Salonga joins with Il Divo for a live reworking of "Memory".
Witness Laurie Beechman perform "Memory" as only she could.
Rosie O'Donnell joins the corps of CATS for an amusing Tony Awards song as host of the telecast in 1997.
Get a cat's eye view of the backstage in this fascinating behind the scenes video.
Glean a glimpse of the arduous makeup application process for CATS.
Broadway standout Michael Gruber discusses his long-standing association with CATS.
Learn the whole tale of how CATS came to be with THE MAKING OF CATS.
Lastly, the UK tour cast of CATS performs on the 2013 Laurence Olivier Awards.
So, what precisely is it about CATS that makes it ripe for revival right now in your humble estimation? Furthermore, what element grabbed you most in your first experience with CATS, whether seeing it onstage or onscreen? To that point, what do you think about a future feature film version, as is currently being considered by the creators? Whatever the recipe, CATS is always a fulfilling and delightful musical meal to enjoy and it seems likely that a Broadway revival is less than 9 lives away.
From This Author Pat Cerasaro