Cats is an award-winning musical composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber based on Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats and other poems by T. S. Eliot.
The show has been performed around the world in numerous productions and has been translated into more than 20 languages.
Now, after almost 4 years of negotiations, it has come to Palmerston North's Abbey Theatre group, for your pleasure.
Never having seen this production, or read T.S. Eliot's books, I was about as fresh an audience as you could get. No preconceived ideas, no opinions to compliment or contrast, and the only brief contact I had of the show was that in my youth I would hear "Memory" playing around our house often... a common side effect of living in a house with parents who adored musicals.
Even had I not been informed by the programme, hastily glanced through as we took our seats, that the locale of the play had been changed from a alleyway to an abandoned carnvial grounds, the contents of the set and the image of a tattered carnival poster painted on the net curtain set the scene perfectly. One thing that really struck me about the set was how it extended beyond the stage. The full moon was set afront a spotlight a good 3m beyond the stage edge, and strings of carnival lights were strung right out as far as the upper balcony. I was soon to learn this was a sign of things to come...
Shortly after the play started, the cats came out into the aisles and did a monologue face to face with the front 8 or so rows. This, I thought, was by far the most novel way to expand the stage and include the sudience, but also a most effective display of cat-like posturing. The cast had done a wonderful job of getting into feline character, their performances were smooth and sleek, in a very cat-like manner.
I have to admit also being a bit vague about the plot. If it weren't for the brief writeup in the local rag to forewarn me, I too would have been at a total loss to find, let alone follow, the plot. However this didn't really detract from the show itself, which was another superb performance by the Abbey Theatre group and assorted celeb cast. Call me an uncultured swine if you must, but I was quite lost as to the point of the whole Jellicle Ball scene... sure, it showed off some very talenting dancers' skills, but it did nothing for the plot in the least. I can only imaginw what ALW was thinking when he wrote that bit in!
There were a couple of characters that really stood out for me. The Rum Tum Tugger, played by the renowned Ian Harman... I have to say, he gave such a zany tilt to the character, I was immediately struck by how much he looked like Eddie Izzard, and acted like Frankenfurter! It was a hilarious image to have in mind during the performances. So very like a strutting ginger tom... The other character that struck me was Grizabella, played by the very talented Carry Green, who has impressed me in other shows I have seen, such as Oliver, Les Mis and Cabaret. Her rendition of "Memory" was just beautiful. Even though he is taking a chorus spot in this production, there was one scene in Act 2, Growltiger's Last Stand, where another favoured performer, Dean O'Flaherty, sang a wonderful narrative. I was surprised to see him in the back rows on a production of this scale. Lastly, Skimbleshanks, played by the charming rogue Scott Andrew, who so amused and entertained us as Emcee in Cabaret, was another winner to watch.
Some excellent performance highlights of the show for me included the Skimbleshanks scene where the cast used amusement park debris to make a pretty good rendition of a steam train engine (which drew a round of enthusiastic spontaneous applause), and of all things, the intermission! "How can a break in the show be a highlight? Was it THAT bad?" you may ask... but no, the show wasn't even close to that bad, far from it... it's the way they cast grabbed a 5 minute break, and then started slinking out onto the stage and theatre floor to do, well, cat things. The stalk and glare, the going where they want to go, no matter what 2-legs and furniture are in the way, the rubbing of cheeks to gain attention and affection, even the occasional, hilarious catfight in the aisles. So many cats, upstairs and down... it was hard to keep track of even a tenth of the entertainment.
Overall, I would have to say I really enjoyed the show. Even though, at the end, I overheard comments by other patrons that the change in venue made the whole "ascending to the Heaviside Layer" "...past the hotel..." song a bit out of context, and the occasional glitches with the sound system, combined to ruin the show, I had to disagree. I really got into the show a lot more because I wasn't filled with internationally-acclaimed versions of the show beforehand. I could see it with fresh eyes, and see the excellent efforts that went into a very 'professional' amateur production. I had to laugh at the scene that offers a description of what a Rumpus cat is... and all I could think of was a montage of cartoon cats and which were Rumpus cats... and the two that stood out were 'Horse' from the cultural icon strip 'Footrot Flats', and 'Scarface Claw' from the 'Hairy MacLary' books. My own cat would be halfway between a sleep-a-holic "Gumby" cat and a frenetic 'Jellicle' cat. So even if I discount the whole enjoyment of the show itself, I can see I still walked away with something extra, something that will stay with me... I can now see the true names of cats... That makes it doubly worthwhile attending this great show, in a stunning-as-always venue, the Regent Theatre.
For years I have been wanting to see CATS, having always been a huge fan of anything by Andrew Loyd Webber. So when I found it was being performed at the Regent, I absolutely HAD to go and see it!! Collecting a programme on the way in, I settled down into my seat and had a quick flick through before the lights dimmed, and was extremely pleased to see a now familiar name pop up in amongst the cast. Yet another show with the lovely, talented Carrie Green!! I have now seen Carrie in several performances, and have been thoroughly captivated by her voice each and every time. So it was with much delight that I prepared to be captivated once more. I was not to be disappointed!!
Carrie's performance as the shunned Grizabella was haunting, yet powerful, especially when she sang one of my all-time favourite songs...Memory. Boy can she sing!!! The second time round was even more moving as Grizabella sang her way back into her tribe's affections, making me seriously wish it was a video/DVD I was watching, simply so I could rewind and listen all over again!!! I have now decided that if I ever learn of Carrie Green being in another show, BEFORE I actually go to see it, I will be DEFINITELY getting a ticket to go and see her, no matter what the show is or who else is in it!!
Scott Andrew was an absolute hoot once again, this time in the role of Skimbleshanks, after seeing him for the first time in Caberet and thoroughly enjoy his role that time as well. As another talented performer with a wonderful voice, Scott is another who I will be keeping a constant eye out for.
Next on my list of favourite performers in CATS most definitely had to have been the oh-so-flamboyant Ian Harman as the playful prankster - Rum Tum Tugger. Watching him strutting around the stage, I was reminded of both Tim Curry as Dr Frankenfurter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and of the colourful Julian Clarey. This simply added more "zing" to his performance, and had me chuckling on several occasions.
If there were to be any negatives for me about this show, they would only be minor. There was the occasional technical sound glitch that interrupted every now and then, but not enough to be annoying. Other than that, the only problem I had, was that if it had not been for reading a newspaper article a couple of days beforehand about CATS, which gave a brief run down on what the show was actually about, I would not have known just what the story was, as it was quite difficult to follow the story line. However, great singing and dancing more than made up for that, and I still found myself lost in the enjoyment of it all. It's shows like this that remind me of why I love live theatre so much!!! Especially when they involve the audience as well!!! That's right... part way through the first act, the audience stopped being JUST the audience, as cats started stalking their way off-stage and began weaving their way in amongst the crowd of fascinated and amused observers, still singing as they went. It was a great way to get a close-up of the fantastic constume designs, and it was made obvious just how well and truely "in character" these performers were!! I had thought it would just be a one-off thing... but no!! About 5 minutes into Intermission, cats started emerging from side doors and once more began creeping off the stage and into the audience. Do these guys not get a break??? Within minutes, people were twisting and turning in their seats to watch the performers as they moved about, totally immersed in their characters. Laughter rippled through the theatre constantly as the antics of the cats became more and more outrageous... you just didn't know where you should be looking next - until the laughter became slightly louder in one section, then you certainly did!
It was easy to see the individual characteristics of each cat as the actors clambered over seats, rubbed their cheeks against members of the audience the way your pet cat would, stared with that bold, arrogant yet curious stare cats are so well known for, posed and preened, fought with other cats, and even went so far as to steal a nibble of ice cream or two (you seriously have to watch that Rum Tum Tugger when he gets into the audience!! LOL!!). Even though the rest of the show was great, this is definitely what made it FANTASTIC for me!!
If you get the chance to go and see CATS, I would very highly recommend it... just watch your ice cream!!!
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