Look, there’s only one question we all want answered: how good is Nicole Scherzinger?
Well, she’s superb. Hers is a Grizabella of tragic, fading beauty. Far from just a popstar, she has a powerful yet emotionally nuanced voice that makes her mournful delivery of “Memory” both touching and sonically impressive. She is perhaps a little young to play the older glamourpuss and her American accent does stick out in a very clipped British show, but she is a pop performer who is worth the hype of having her name on the poster. What’s more, she’s incredibly humble – she is not given the honour of the final bow and she fits in neatly with the rest of the cast, despite receiving rapturous applause after singing the rest of them off the stage.
In short, honey, she was LIV-ING.
Of course, Grizabella is just one small part in an ensemble show that is, essentially, an elaborate poetry reading. Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber turns T. S Eliot’s poetry into a sort of feline papal conclave as the cats choose one attendee of their “Jellicle Ball” to receive new life. Yes, the thin veil of plot is as nonsensical as ever - Gus the theatre cat’s extended pirate dream sequence, for instance, is bizarre and unnecessarily drags out an already long show - but it’s not helped by some poor diction (sung and spoken) that renders many of the lines unintelligible and some cast members take the shrieking cat element of their singing too literally.
It’s also not helped by balance issues between the orchestra and singing, whilst the cheap synth sounds are an old relic from the show’s 80s origins. The score itself also hasn’t aged well, consisting of repetitive childlike melodies and muddled word-setting that doesn’t aid the minimal narrative. Despite some memorable tunes, even ALW fans must admit this isn’t his best material, even if it’s impossible to leave without “Magical Mr. Mistoffelees” in your head.
That said, as much as Cats is billed as a musical, more than anything it’s a ballet. In that respect the dancing is exceptional. This production has stuck with the original choreography and twenty years later it remains as innovative and exhilarating as before. Its mix of ballet and classical dance with feline characterisation is as cleverly imaginative as it is sexy, whilst the gymnastic displays are spectacular and a tap routine during “The Old Gumbie Cat” injects some energy into the first act.
However, there has been one major attempt to unnecessarily modernise the show for this revival. The Rum Tum Tugger has been transformed into some sort of East London rapping hip-hop cat. His street dancing may be impressive, but it’s stylistically out of sync with the rest of the show, whilst his rapping is out of time and an annoying addition to other songs. It’s inexcusable for this character to be so unlikeable.
As the internet is transfixed by cat gifs these days, theatregoers can once again be mesmerised by Cats. Watching the lithe cast slink around the stage in their fantastical costumes is a strangely sensual experience. Add in an elaborately trashy set and some wonderful lighting that sparkles over the audience and Cats still delivers a magical experience – with or without that star cast member.
Watch: Cats is booking until the end of February. Scherzinger ends her run on the 7th February.
Ticket courtesy of Official Theatre and SeatPlan.
For info on SeatPlan, visit their website: www.seatplan.com
To see Official Theatre's Rebecca Felgate rapping dressed as a cat, scroll down...