Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Directed by Trevor Nunn
Resident Director: Stephen Morgante
Presented by The Really Useful Group
13 Campbell Street, Haymarket
Season: 30 October – 29 November
Cats! The fantastical, the renowned, the vastly successful musical has hit Sydney. This feline frenzy is a feast for your eyes and ears where musical artistry meets a cacophony of performance and design finesse. Teeming with catchy tunes and showcasing extraordinary dance ability in the cast, an infectious buzz resounds in the theatre as you are immersed in the Jellicle Cats’ world for one whimsical night.
Based on the poems TS Eliot wrote for his grandchildren, Cats introduces the audience to the vibrant and varied personalities of the Jellicle cats who unite once a year to celebrate their uniqueness. Additionally, the cats await the revered Deuteronomy to select the cat that will be delivered to the Heaviside Layer, to be reborn into a new cat life. Delta Goodrem features in the role of Grizabella the Glamour Cat, who is past her prime and forlorn as she is outcast by the other cats. A story of acceptance unfolds…
I understand you may be sceptical of a musical featuring people dressed as singing and dancing cats. However, a musical doesn’t spend a record-breaking 18-year run on Broadway and 21-year run on the West End for no reason - there is clearly an allure radiating from Lloyd Webber’s Cats the Musical. The infrequent musical-goer should perhaps be warned that there is little spoken dialogue and not a strong storyline to carry you through. Interestingly, a condition of TS Eliot’s estate (Lloyd Webber crafted Cats after Eliot’s death, with the blessing of his widow) was that additional dialogue was not to be affixed to the original poetry, limiting the scope for storyline development and rather focusing on the introduction of the plethora of Jellicle cat personalities. However, as long as you are open-minded to the concept, you can dive into this Jellicle world with great ease, embracing the merriment and tomfoolery.
The musical stars a powerhouse cast, with the vast majority performing their own song or dance in the limelight. As an ensemble, they cannot be faulted. Each individual injects boundless energy into the show, resulting in a riveting stage presence and songs that make your heart sing. This vigour is extended in audience interaction as the cats prowl through the aisles, to the delight of the audience. The voice work of the performers on stage is firmly supported by the live musicians who undertake a range of musical genres with flair and flexibility, including classical, pop, music hall, rock, electro-acoustic and even a contemporary hip-hop flavour. This modernisation of the original version occurred in the Rum Tum Tugger’s song, whose overall persona has been transformed in this production to suit the hip-hop vibes. Daniel Assetta portrays this role with impressive style and alters his catlike movements in accordance with hip-hop dance, exhibiting further flexibility. Assetta is not the only one with savvy dance moves, with the whole ensemble embracing feline movement as a core transformation into their new animal personas. Another highlight is Christopher Favaloro’s exquisite dance and acrobatic performance as Mr Mistoffelees. Favaloro has the audience cheering in awe. As mentioned, Delta Goodrem plays the key role of Grizabella, who I’m sure is a drawcard for many audience members to come along. Known primarily for her singing voice, she performs “Memory” beautifully, with a moving emotional quality and resonating power behind each of the notes. Unfortunately until she begins singing, Goodrem’s physicality and stage presence does not match the remainder of the cast, faltering to present a believable feline character and convey a sense of age and loss. Luckily her voice largely compensates for this, and appeared to amply please the audience nonetheless.
The performers in Cats are remarkable, however undoubtedly the production could not achieve the same effect without the entirety of the show’s production elements. The grandeur of the set design strikes you as you first enter the theatre, the junkyard havoc spilling across the sides of the stage. It isn’t until the show begins that you notice the extent of the elaborate nature of the set, full of slides, hidey-holes and ladders. The performers interact in this space wonderfully, continually exploring and occasionally catching an audience member’s eye in the background. The theatrical space is all encompassing, drawing the audience into the environment through the extension of lighting into the realm of the spectators. This design is scintillating and zaps colour into a largely dark space. Costume design aids the final step in the performer’s evolution into cats, as they don full body suits with differing designs, fluffy wigs and ornate face paint.
When you go to a musical, you want the songs to affect you, you want to rejoice in the spirit of the show, and you want to be wowed. Cats accomplishes this with flying colours. Comprised of an abundance of absorbing and exhilarating aspects of the production, and driven by performers of immense skill and panache, it would be tremendously difficult to leave this show unaffected. Of course, a desire to appreciate the concept of the musical, quirks and all, is helpful. However, I think these charming cats are bound to win you over, making for a purr-fect night at the theatre.