Page to Screen is a new original feature I’m experimenting with where I talk about film adaptations of YA books
This is a special edition of Page to Screen called
Page to Screen to Stage
which is about musicals based on films based on books.
Cats: Australian Tour Edition
Cats the musical takes its source text from Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by TS Eliot. The music is by Andrew Lloyd Webber. There was a made for TV ‘movie’ released in 1998.
The most important musical in my life is Cats. It’s the musical that introduced me to other musicals, the one that made me an Andrew Lloyd Webber and Sarah Brightman fangirl, the one that I use songs from to audition and whose dances I memorised over the summer school holidays in 1998-99 when I watched the TV movie every single day without fail, and sometimes twice. It’s a show that my high school BFF and I wrote a 100 page fanfic for, and the first fandom I was a part of.
It’s the show that I became known as the resident expert on when I was in an amateur production in 2007 and the choir ladies were confused as to what was going on. I knew all the backstories and relationships between the cats (such as The Rum Tum Tugger and second in command Munkustrap being brothers) and I knew the history of the show, such as Judi Dench being originally cast as Grizabella but snapping her Achilles tendon shortly before opening night and being replaced by Elaine Paige. I was the one to tell the (mostly teenage) cast to quit making rape jokes about Demeter because no one had explained to them that’s exactly what Macavity did to her, and then explained what on earth Growltiger’s Last Stand was all about. Cats is even the reason I met my husband. I know the show inside out.
So to me, it’s a very special show.
This Australian tour production is based on the 2015 Olivier Award-nominated staging from London, which was reworked by the original creative team leaving about 90-95% of the original choreography, which I was very excited about. Major changes include turning The Rum Tum Tugger from an Elvis-inspired, pelvis-wiggling rock star into the rapping and breakdancing lovechild of Kanye and Michael Jackson, which I absolutely detest and abhor, and rewriting the melody of Growltiger’s Last Stand, which, now that I’ve had a chance to digest it, might not be as bad as I initially thought. This was also the first time in my life I wasn’t bored by Memory – Delta Goodrem’s pop-flavoured interpretation of the hit ballad really worked, and I for the first time I wasn’t sitting there fast-forwarding or waiting impatiently for Jemima to pop up.
My husband and I had really great seats, right behind the tech desk with an uninhibited view of the stage. I had warned my husband previously that if I cried, it wasn’t because the show was sad, which it isn’t, but because I was simply overwhelmed. I had literally waited half my life to see a professional production of the show and as soon as the Overture started I burst into tears. I had to keep reprimanding myself – “Stop crying! You can’t see anything with your eyes all blurry!” but then I’d remember that, “THIS IS LIVE. YOU’RE SEEING IT IN REAL LIFE. THIS IS AWESOME.” And start crying again. I pretty much cried for the entire show, embarrassed that a nearly 30 year old couldn’t keep her emotions under control.
My husband had never seen the show before and didn’t know any of the songs, so I occasionally leaned over and whispered what was happening. He said he got lost in Act 2, but after I explained the plot, he understood it. This reminded me of a production I was previously in where the young cast was confused about Act 2 – they didn’t understand that Growltiger’s Last Stand was a play within a play. I was utterly shocked the director didn’t explain it to them.
I found the cast utterly delightful, especially when they came into the stands, picked an audience member, and sang straight to them. I was bitterly disappointed I wasn’t somewhat closer to the aisles and I almost leapt out of my seat calling for Munkustrap when he came striding through the seats just before Act 2 so I could boop his paw. The woman playing Bombalurina posed stylishly for photos and some cats happily posed for selfies as well. I found each cast member to be proficient, wonderful singers and of course their dancing was amazing. I found myself drawn to the slick moves of The Rum Tum Tugger and of course Cassandra stood out, being the only cat with no arm or leg warmers and a close-cropped wig. Not picking favourites, but I also need to mention the woman playing Rumpelteazer, who was the daughter of the original Australian Rumeplteazer. That was pretty cool.
I wasn’t exactly disappointed, but I had been looking forward to seeing my favourite cats, the psychic twins Coricopat and Tantomile – relatively minor roles, to be honest, but there are a number of reasons they are my favourites – but the lad who normally plays Coricopat must have been covering an understudy role because Coricopat was played by another woman. It certainly didn’t harm the show and I believe a number of the cast were swings and understudied multiple roles. I think for a long-term touring show that’s a really great idea.
I really have nothing bad to say about the show except for changing The Rum Tum Tugger’s song and look, which I really hated and I still hate. I just don’t see the point: I know the great Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber did it to ‘update’ the show, but why only rewrite two songs, why those two, and why was poor Tugger taken from a rock star fluffy Main Coon to a dreadlocked, low-baggy pants-wearing rapper.
I was really nervous about seeing this show. Sometimes live theatre can be hit or miss, and I was aware that the last time CATS toured Australia, Tasmania missed out. I was really nervous I wouldn’t love it or I wouldn’t think the tickets were worth the price.