BWW Review: CATS at the Sands Theatre, what a fantastic mewsicle!
Are they still hungry? Do they want a head scratch? We all have wondered what are our pets thinking at some point, and due to the bond shared, we are usually able to make a good guess. What about the alleycats that we pass on the streets? With eyes that track our every movement. The times where I am walking my dog at night, they crouched amongst the bushes with an arch back and ready to pounce. To help us better understand these elusive beings, 'CATS' has returned to the Sands Theater, Marina Bay Sands! I finally caught this long-running and award-winning musical last Thursday (19 Dec).
During the overture, it's when the Cats slither among the audience in the dark, and suddenly glowing pairs of green eyes light up, really brought me back to the night walks. The staging was beautifully done, with greenish-blue lights extending beyond the stage and we find ourselves amidst a junkyard playground, where the street Cats, or Jellice Cats as we later learn, live and play. Andrew Lloyd Webber's record-breaking musical Cats is Based on T. S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. The show is brought alive with feline characters including Rum Tum Tugger, Mr Mistoffelees, Macavity, Jennyanydots, Old Deuteronomy, Grizabella and Skimbleshanks.
Jellicle Cats come out to play on one special night of the year - the night of the Jellicle Ball. One by one they tell their stories for the amusement of Old Deuteronomy, their wise and benevolent leader, who must choose one of the Cats to ascend to The Heaviside Layer and be reborn into a whole new Jellicle life.
We got an introduction of the Jellicle Cats in "Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats" where each of the Cats one by one added their voices to what it means to be a Jellicle cat in the overture. We soon discover a stretched out stage after one of the Cats broke down the fourth wall and was mildly offended when he was supposedly asked: "what's a Jellicle Cat?" A chorus of Cats went on to describe how each cat is unique from their fancy names to their individual personality.
The spectacular dance numbers blew me away. There were ballet, tap dancing, acrobatics, a rocket-esque line-up, Mr Mistoffelees' 22 conjuring turns and even a flying trapeze. Imagine pretending to be a cat for a good few hours, from the way they walk on fours, to grooming and catty calls. Mimicking the nimble movements of our feline friends also means that the 29 actors on stage, from London and West End, would have spent hours practising and perfecting these difficult moves. Another favourite of mine is the clever lyrics and tunes, which oozes of the Llyod Webber treatment. From the show's famous climactic ballad "Memory" to the very vivid and melodious telling of the story in the other introductions.
The voice of the night goes to Joanna Ampil who plays the once- glamour cat, Grizabella. She belted the unofficial Cats 'theme song' Memory with perfection and clarity. Leaving all of us silent in awe that I swear we could hear a pin drop. Despite not being on stage for much of the show, Ampil's Grizabella was powerfully heartbreaking.
The show took the time to introduce the key Cats and their backstories. Rum Tum Tugger (George Hinson), with his majestic mane and flashy body Catsuit, was a ladies favourite. Together with smooth moves and a sassy attitude, he caught our attention. But the show-stealer for me is none other than Gus, the theatre cat. His story, and looking at how he had aged, definitely tugged at my heartstrings. Being a theatre nerd myself, it was emotional and relatable that Gus might very well be me someday.
There are plenty of interactions throughout the show other than the aforementioned fourth wall. The actors, aka felines, true to their active selves at nighttime, are barely confined to the stage. Many times during the show, would they be running up and down the aisle while singing and doing cat-like stuff like climbing on the chairs and interacting with us. While it is fun and exciting to see the actors performing up close, it does impact the sound quality, especially so when they are singing in unison.
There are points in the performance that I struggled. Such as understanding the song during the 'Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat', the speakers were quite jarring with the fast-paced and high octave nature of the song. There is the somewhat awkward and sudden mood change from Magical Mr.Mistoffelees to when Grizabella sings Memory. Perhaps it was to draw a sharp end to the show with a stark contrast between the two items. I am still unconvinced if it a genius move.
What CATS lack is of a connecting story. The show mainly talks about the story of the individual Cats the individuals they are and I wished to see the featured Cats appear later in the show playing a part since we have gotten to know them. The fact that Grizabella was chosen and flew off to be reborn barely after a couple of minutes of being accepted back by the other cats baffles me. Gus should have been the chosen one, but that is just me. CATS is also unique in exploring the myth of the multiple lives of a cat and viewed the topic of death, or re-birth, beautifully as a celebrated life passage where everyone gets to go when it is their turn.
CATS is a timeless musical with a beautiful score for all ages. Be prepared to be entertained by furry beings that might crawl right by you. If you love and adore your neighbourhood cats, or perhaps like some of my friends, identifies as a crazy cat lady, this is the musical for you!
CATS run at the Sands Theater, Marina Bay Sands from now till 5 January 2020.
Photo credit: CATS Tour 2019 Photography by Alessandro Pinna