Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1981 blockbuster musical Cats is without a doubt an example of worn out musical theatre, and in many circles is considered one of Lloyd Webber’s productions to dismiss entirely. It’s repetitiveness, lack of depth, incomprehensible plot and tired old tricks makes it a show that is so lacking in originality and intrigue that it could almost be rendered a useless inclusion in the musical theatre canon.
This new Sydney production begs the same question, asking: why is Cats so relevant that it had to be brought back from the musical dead? In the retelling of T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, the cast dress up in leotards, face paint and onesies to pretend they are the cats in the title – the famous Jellicle Cats. Indeed the plot is a very undeveloped one and we meet each of the Cats separately as if a revue rather than a fully formed show. It’s use of dance, music and design to create an alternative audience was once a success, but here fails to score highly.
Thankfully some of the songs and sequences in the show are tweaked to run smoother. Run Tum Tugger is reimagined as a rapper, rather than an old rocker in the original, giving award-winning performer Daniel Assetta a chance to shine. The revised choreography by Gillian Lynne is repetitive at times and isn’t particularly cutting edge, but remains technical and careful. Sadly this eclipses the singing many times and the orchestra sounds the same as when ti was written in the 80s.
But most of all, the actors and actresses themselves are the ones that carry the show and elevate the show. Here is where pop star Delta Goodrem’s inclusion as Grizabella stuns the crowd, particularly with her emotionally powerful rendition of “Memory”.