Who doesn’t love our feline friends?
When offered the opportunity to see the North American touring version of Cats, the popular musical composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber, I walked to Budweiser Gardens in London both optimistically and curious. I’d never seen the musical before and it does stir up passionate adoration and utter distain (most of which is based on the 2019 movie).
Theatre fans can rest assured knowing that the live touring version in this the road show is nowhere near as complex and disjointed as the movie. It’s quite enjoyable and memorable. It also helped that I prepared myself for what I was about to see. Lloyd Webber based his musical on the 1939 poetry collection Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot. It tells the story of a tribe of cats called the Jellicles and the night they make the “Jellicle choice” by deciding which cat will ascend to the Heaviside Layer and come back to a new life. It stays fairly true to the original poems, but told through grand musical numbers for each cat.
Right off the top, the opening tune Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats was catchy and eye grabbing. Even days later, I still have this one in my head. Each cat has a unique song and performance, but ones that really stuck out were the beautiful dancing in Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer, Gus: The Theatre Cat which featured an excerpt of one of Gus’ plays, the big production number Mr. Mistoffelees, and a stellar performance from the beautiful cat who performed Grizabella’s song Memory, the most famous of all the songs and the one with the biggest reaction from the audience.
Things became increasingly obvious as the show went on. This is a very complex show where the entire program is told through song, so every note, every moment and every minute of the show is calculated and needs to go off without a hitch. It would be a hard and complicated show for locals to pull off (although I could imagine Windsor Light Music Theatre or the Grand Theatre could have a successful run at it). This touring version is tight, slick and performed to live music, making it the best way possible to see Cats in 2022/23.
For a Cats musical virgin, I’m sold. I’d love to catch this again in the future. For Canadians, the only other performance will be at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver in May.