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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Cats
Palladium   Winter 2014-2015; Winter 2015-2016

[For the 2015 run Beverley Knight plays Grizabella]

It was around for so long that it seemed like part of the landscape, and it comes as a bit of a surprise to realise that the original production of Cats closed twelve years ago. So there's a whole new generation of tourists, kids and once-a-year theatregoers to welcome this revival. 

And they won't be cheated. Sophisticates got into the habit of sneering at Cats, mainly because it was so popular. But it is good quality musical entertainment, and delivers value for money to its audience without condescending. 

As everyone in the universe knows, usually dour poet T.S. Eliot wrote some whimsical poems about cats, which Andrew Lloyd Webber set to music (with a bit of textual tinkering by director Trevor Nunn). 

Nunn and choreographer Gillian Lynne staged them as a string of more-or-less independent dances, with the thin story line that one of the cats was to be chosen at the end for a trip to kitty heaven. 

And so there are set pieces about the theatre cat, the magical cat, the king-of-crime cat, the raggedy formerly-beautiful cat, and the like, all filling the stage with uninterrupted song and dance. 

One thing this revival makes clear, and didn't actually go unnoticed but was perhaps underappreciated before, is that the driving force of the show is not Eliot's poetry or Lloyd Webber's music, but Gillian Lynne's choreography. 

Not just energetic – those dancers must work up a real sweat under their cat costumes – Lynne's dances form a catalogue of dance styles from classical ballet through jazz to Broadway dance and beyond, all designed and executed to the highest standard. 

From flashy solos like Joseph Poulton's Mr. Mistoffelees to stage-filling company numbers like The Jellicle Ball, the dancing is constantly inventive and exciting. (You can even spot and enjoy respectful tributes to previous theatre choreographers from Balanchine and Kidd to Bennett and Fosse.) 

There have been a few changes for this revival. Rum Tum Tugger, formerly an Elvis clone, is, in the shape of Antoine Murry-Straughan, now a crowd-pleasing rapper and street dancer, and raggedy Grizabella gets a little more stage time, including a short dance solo. 

Grizabella always was something of a cameo guest star role – after a brief early appearance she shows up at the end of Act One to sing the show's one big hit, Memory, and then again at the end of Act Two to reprise it. 

In another variation from tradition Nicole Scherzinger must be the least grizzly Grizabella in history, costumed less like a ragged ancient than like a young woman a bit worse for wear after a night on the town. 

Her voice has an attractive and appropriate smoky quality and she knows how to act a song, though she clearly has been directed to hold back in her first rendition of Memory, which might disappoint those who don't know a reprise is coming. 

Scherzinger and the sound engineer do pull out all the stops for the big second go at the song, making it the thoroughly satisfying dramatic and musical climax it deserves to be. 

Cats is scheduled for only a three month run, so don't fall into the trap of thinking that once again it will be here forever.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Cats - Palladium 2014    

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