In 1981, Andrew Lloyd Webber brought Cats to West-End. A year later, the musical saw its Broadway debut where it played until 2000. Loosely based on Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot, it seems to be mostly a showcase for really attractive people to prance about in spandex to soaring show tunes. In 1998, it was filmed for television. With makeup and lycra, the tales of the various cats were brought to the screen, directed by David Mallet and produced by Webber.
Technically, the plot is centered around a bunch of cats (Jellicle specifically) that have gathered for their yearly ball. Woeful and mischievous, they dance and sing about their antics and life stories. At the end of the gathering, the cats’ leader, Old Deuteronomy (Ken Page), chooses one to ascend to the Heaviside Layer. There’s also a subplot involving Macavity (Bryn Walters), a cat criminal, but really, not too much goes on plot-wise. Plot’s not the point here. Who’s looking for plot when there’s hotness dancing in spandex?
At this point, I must remark on some of the, uh...particulars of the costuming in this production of Cats. I’ve seen pictures from the original stage version and will say that I’m grateful for the advances in synthetic fabrics over the years. While sitting and watching Cats with my mother for this review, she pointed out something she found odd. For as sexual as people say that Cats is as a production, she remarked that everyone looked fairly androgynous--the men especially. I watched for a moment and found my gaze straying crotchward...
She was right! They look like Ken dolls!
I for one expect more penis in my theatrical production. You can’t hide anything with spandex, and I have to confess to being impressed that they managed to effectively neuter the men...impressed and disappointed.
Having never seen Cats performed live, I can’t compare it to the stage show, but I can mention there are a number of things that the filmed version does that wouldn’t be feasible in a theatrical production. It’s mostly a bit of flash and dazzle, but it certainly adds to the fun of the show. What also adds to the fun is just how wholly committed to being cats the cast is. The cast features a number of theater legends , Ken Page and Ellen Paige ; and also includes John Mills , now departed veteran of stage and screen. For those huge geeks at home, you’ll be amused to know that Femi Taylor is in this production as Exotica. Taylor is most “famous” for playing Oola, the unfortunate Twi’lek slave girl in Jabba the Hut’s lair who meets a crunchy end in The Return of the Jedi .
All things considered, Cats is great fun to watch, especially if you’ve consumed some sort of mind-altering substance. Unfortunately, I didn't have any on hand, but I can say with some authority that the randomness in this particular production lends itself to a night of heavy drinking. The tunes are catchy, the cast performs well, and you can end the night debating the symbolism of the Heaviside Layer.