CATS AT THE WOLVERHAMPTON GRAND THEATRE
Theatre Run: Tuesday 19 - Saturday 30 March 2013
Performance Reviewed: Tuesday 26 March
Reviewed by Kyle Pedley
For 21 years, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats graced the West End with its inimitable feline presence, setting a record at the time for longest-running production in the process. It bowed out with its final performance, on it’s 21st birthday to a sold-out house and broadcast live in Covent Garden, back in May 2002. However, 2013 sees the show, one of Lloyd Webber’s most enduring and prolific, return for a triumphant UK tour which until March 30th will see it housed at the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre.
The show follows the story of the tribe of ‘Jellicle Cats’ as they come together for an annual celebratory ball where one of them will be chosen by their venerable leader for a prestigious honour of ascension before returning to a new life. That’s essentially as far as the narrative goes, minus a few minor deviations and side-steps, as the show mostly consists of a series of vignettes showcasing an ecclectic mix of feline characters each with their own particular niche or backstory to be presented in song and dance.
It’s a relatively unique structure and approach, and even to this day Cats remains completely distinctive and decidedly high-concept. For those who are not already familiar with the production then it’s kaleidoscopic, bricolage approach as opposed to a more traditional progressive narrative may alienate some expecting a more conventional musical theatre experience. The upside, however, is that this ensemble, almost Vaudeville approach keeps things fresh and brilliantly paced, with a soundtrack and slew of characters equally as diverse and imaginative as anything Lloyd Webber has produced. From the jazz and blues stylings of ‘Macavity’ through to iconic standard ‘Memory’, this remains one of the composer’s most enduring, varied and charismatic bodies of music.
The cast assembled for this latest touring production are an exceptionally capable and talented team. With such a strong onus on the mannerisms and movements of it’s characters and performances, coupled with the shows almost operatic approach occasionally married with mime, the technical skill of its ensemble is pivotal, and it is where the current cast absolutely shine in particular. The entire company disappear into their roles, all demonstrating remarkable physicality and control and utterly convincing as the cavalcade of varied feline creatures. Aided by remarkably characterful, almost balletic choreography and donning the trademark costumes and make-up of the original production which remain as evocative and effective as ever, this is a troupe at industry-leading standards of brilliance, and ensures Cats remains a brilliantly kinetic and exciting visual treat.
Some notable highlights within the company include Joseph Poulton who is sensationally agile and dextrous as both Quaxo and Mistoffelees, giving one of the shows most impressive dance turns. Barnaby Thompson and Katie Warsop are the perfect Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer, their sequence cheeky, jovial and irrepressible, whilst Alice Redmond is an early highlight with her toe-topping, beetle-befriending Jennyanydots. Joanna Ampil is sensational and raw as Grizabella, one of the closest characters the show has to a lead, delivering an astoundingly good rendition of the shows signature number and highlighting vocals on par with anything you will find in the West End or Broadway. In fact, she is so strong in the role it almost has you wishing the shaping of the show was such that it gave the character more in the way of time and numbers, though it does make what she does get all the more precious. Elaine paige no doubt had the same comments and qualms.
Incredibly faithful and a brilliant celebration of the strengths and uniqueness of the original show, this touring production of Cats will surely delight existing fans whilst converting newcomers in the process. Given it’s almost vaudeville/revue structure and distinctive look and feel, it is perhaps more of an acquired taste than even some of Lloyd Webber’s other output and in places it still does seem to take itself a little too seriously, occasionally sacrificing humour for melodrama or self-importance. Nonetheless, it remains mostly terrific fun throughout, and with catchy, memorable showtunes, terrific visual design and a simply stellar company of performers whose performances both physical and vocal are amongst the most impressive and enthralling I have had the pleasure of watching, Cats is an easy recommendation and the purr-fect touring revival of one of theatres most enduring and cherished musical experiences.
I’m now going to treat myself to a saucer of milk for getting through that entire review with only one such awful pun...
RATING - * * * * (4 out of 5 Stars)
CATS is running at the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre from Tuesday 19 March to Saturday 30 March 2013.
CLICK HERE for more information on the shows' run at the New Alexandra and to book your tickets!
Alternatively phone the Theatre Box Office on 01902 42 92 12.
Press tickets for this performance of CATS were provided courtesy of The Wolverhampton Grand directly. The author gratefully acknowledges their generous invitation.