Andrew Lloyd Webber’s tale of the Jellicle Cats is one that captured imaginations when it nimbly leapt and pranced its way onto the West End in 1981. And to do so, it defied many an obstacle as Lloyd Webber declared: “Perceived West End wisdom was that if ever a project was doomed, Cats was it.” However, fast forward to 2014 and the London Palladium is commissioning a 12-week run of Cats, with international superstar Nicole Scherzinger in a leading role.
Scherzinger’s time as Grizabella has now been consigned to her memories, and self-described “First Lady of West End musicals”, Kerry Ellis, has come to take the crown. Fresh from performing at Wicked and looking decidedly less green, Ellis takes on the role of the over-the-hill, mournful and nostalgic cat who longs for her former glory days.
If this description of Ellis’s character sounds completely nonsensical, now may be a good time to give some background. Cats is inspired by an anthology of cat poems by T.S. Elliot, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (1939), and in the play each of the characters are introduced and then perform a song and dance. There is not a strong narrative arc and the individual actors have the opportunity to shine in their own episodes.
These separated songs provide ample room for some fantastic duets with Mungojerrie (Benjamin Yates) and Rumpleteazer (Dawn Williams) particularly standing out with their comedic pieces. The majestic gravitas of Old Deuteronomy (Nicholas Pound) was also given the chance to demonstrate his magnificent voice in ‘The Moments of Happiness’ and ‘Old Deuteronomy’. In writing of individual performances, Ellis’s performance of ‘Memory’ is glorious to hear, and her beautiful voice and on-stage presence steals the show even amidst such talent.
This singling out should not deter from the spectacle of the ensemble en masse in the glorious costumes and make-up, under Miriam Kingsley’s direction. The face-paint and slick catsuits, combined with the slinking and sly movements of the dancers, produces a full-on feline frenzy in the whole cast numbers. The enduring nature of Cat’s costumes is acknowledged here in the faithful reproductions.
Cats certainly keeps its cat-got-the-cream smugness 20 years later, and this new production ensures that each creature falls on his and her feet amongst John Napier’s magnificent set design.
Cats is playing at the London Palladium until 28 February. For more information and tickets, see the Cats website.