Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats returned to the stage at the Princess Theatre in Torquay this September and I made sure that I was there!
Cats is one of my favourite musicals of all time. I absolutely love the songs as well as the instrumental numbers. The dancing along with the fantastic costumes and intricate make-up allow you to be transported into the world of our feline friends.
I’ve seen Cats once before on this very stage in Torquay and I was blown away by it so you can imagine my excitement as 3rd September got closer and closer! Waiting for the show to start, I admired the amazing detail that had gone into the set design. What was clearly a scrap yard, rubbish was scattered in heaps all around the edge of the set and it all looked like it had been hand-made. Large Pepsi cans, an over-sized stock cube box and a massive can of Felix cat food all contributed to the set. All the rubbish had been enlarged to remind us that these cats aren’t as big as humans, adding to the realism of the production.
The lights dimmed as the familiar orchestra started and flashing cat eyes glared at the audience from behind the rubbish. Cats started to run down through the aisles and onto the stage, agile and quick, and the show began.
The music instantly captured my heart again and one of my favourites, Jellicle Cats, was performed perfectly. The dancing was on point and the singing was fantastic. The energy that the cast had really reflected into the audience and when I briefly looked around, many people had massive smiles on their faces.
All was going well until the music for Rum Tum Tugger started. Now, I had no idea that the current UK tour of Cats had been revived so I wasn’t expecting any changes. Looking forward to seeing Rum Tum Tugger perform again on stage as this is my absolute favourite song, I instantly recognised that something wasn’t right. The music of the original was still there but it had been altered so it was against an awful hip-hop beat. What proceeded was a Tugger who looked completely different to John Partridge’s original. Dreadlocks, a backwards cap and baggy trousers made the new Tugger (Marcquelle Ward). The character actually began to rap, the original Tugger would have never done this, and break dance. I see what Lloyd Webber was trying to do here. He wanted to re-fresh the original and give the audience something a bit different and I’ve read that there are parts of the original that he was never happy with, including the Rum Tum Tugger song. I completely understand that but I would have preferred him not to completely change the character. The original Tugger was the definition of a heartthrob, effortlessly cool and completely owned the stage. The new Tugger just didn’t have the same effect. He didn’t have the egotistical persona of the original and didn’t have such a magnificent presence. However, it’s not all bad! I did like how the new Tugger got the audience involved much more, encouraging them to clap along and cheer which I really enjoyed.
Other stand-out songs for me were Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer (Joe Henry and Emily Langham), the cat burglars, Skimbleshanks the Railwaycat (Lee Greenaway), who bought the stage alive by re-creating a steam train with junkyard props and of course the Magical Mr Mistoffelees (Shiv Rabheru) who created pure magic in front of our very eyes. This was a song that got the crowd oo-ing and ahh-ing which was great fun.
I also loved Macavity the Mystery Cat performed by Demeter (Helen Turner) and Bombalurina (Megan Armstrong). Their singing was on point and their dancing was incredible. I would love to know how they keep in such great shape as they looked incredible! Maybe I should pursue a career in dance…
As part of the revival, an extra song was performed on stage by much of the cast. It interrupts Gus the Theatre Cat (Greg Castiglioni) as he remembers playing Growltiger in a show. The song tells the story of Growltiger, a pirate cat, who meets his fate when he least’s expects it. Personally, I wasn’t a fan of this number. I just felt like it was really out of place amongst the other songs and that it was meant for a pantomime rather than a classic musical.
Of course, I can’t end this review by not mentioning the famous ‘Memory’ performed by Marianne Benedict as Grizabella. Unlike many, I have to say that I’m not a big fan of ‘Memory’. I’m not one for slow songs and I always felt like it ruined my mood amongst all the other upbeat songs. However, there’s no denying that Benedict sang it beautifully and she really showcased that she has the most incredible voice.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed watching one of my favourite musicals again. Despite the revival having changes in it that I didn’t agree with, there’s no question that the whole cast were brilliant, well-rehearsed and entertaining.
Photos supplied by Jo Allan PR, taken by Alessandro Pinna.