When I first saw the return of Cats to London last December, I have to confess I was a bit disappointed: after 21 years of the wraparound totally immersive experience of the show’s original run at the New London, there was something bigger but flatter about seeing it in the IMAX-scaled pros arch version at the London Palladium.
But on seeing it again I now think I was being a little harsh. It’s different, for sure, but it still offers its audiences (and the musical theatre itself) a jolt of innovation and inventiveness that the British musical has seldom achieved before, and 34 years since its opening, remains both radical and surprising.
No dance-based musical like it had ever been attempted before in the UK; six years after A Chorus Line had put Broadway dancers’ lives onstage, we replied by putting the lives of cats onstage, and getting expertly athletic dancers to play them. It was put together with amazing creative skill. I characterised Gillian Lynne’s choreography as repetitive when I saw it again last December, but it is actually full of detailed, intricate movement and frequently thrilling.
The show also feels like it has found a new rhythm and confidence among the utterly fluid ensemble. Though it’s far from a star vehicle, Kerry Ellis is outstanding as the new Grizabella. She brings the haunted theatricality back to the character that was lacking in Scherzinger’s power-house pop performance.
I’m still not sure about the newly rapping Rum Tum Tugger – a modern interpolation too far – but otherwise this revival honours a great musical.
December 6-April 25, 2015. Original PN: December 11. PN for Kerry Ellis: February 19
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