CATS: review

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Unleashed, CATS continue to prowl the streets of Singapore, swishing their tails and sauntering while we join in and purr in delight. ArtZine tells of the Jellicle Ball (Gala Premiere) we attended on April 14.

By: Fred Chin

The last time I saw CATS was back in 1995, at the New London Theater, in the West End. I still remember the countless occasions when I listened to the 1982 Original Broadway Cast Recording over and over again, before catching the musical several years later in London. It was, no doubt, one of the best days in my life.

14 years later, that same excitement, enjoyment and nostalgia I felt on that day returned tonight, when I attended the gala premiere of its Singapore run at the Esplanade Theatre. Perhaps the greatest musical of all time, no fan of Andrew Lloyd Webber should have any reason to miss CATS when it runs, jumps and sings its way extravagantly into town this April.

Featuring Australia’s finest theater stars, the furry cast effortlessly put up a magnificent show, commanding the stage with pitch-perfect singing and flawless choreography. Every dance sequence was choreographed with every note, the mischievous tunes complementing the high-spirited fun of the cats so well. It was as if the slightest movement created the slightest melody.

The music is diverse, from the loud big band accents and swing rhythms that heightened the double-life of the Gumbie cat, to the trumpets at the flamboyant entrance of The Rum Tum Tugger, magnifying his grand introduction to the audience. The sound of lumbering tubas did the honors of bringing out the weight of the very distinguished twenty-five pounder Bustopher Jones, and the jazzy tunes put forward the thieving nature of Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer. The melancholic harmonies manifest the once magnificent Gus and the sadness of Grizabella.

The vocal diversity of the different cast members was another remarkable attribute of tonight’s performance. John O’Hara, who played The Rum Tum Tugger, sang in a manner that would do Mick Jagger proud, and it was most perfect for his self-obsessed, but lovable, character. John Ellis, as Old Deuteronomy, sang as if he was really the oldest living cat one could imagine, at the same in a tone filled with infinite wisdom, doing justice to his character.

Gus, his voice was weak and breathless. As the young Gus acting as Growltiger, he sang an Italian aria exultantly in the mock production of Growltiger’s Last Stand that brought so much variety to the whole musical. Although a little bizarre to watch a production within a production, more specifically, an Italian aria within a musical, and being played by a cat who was once a theater actor, it was a still performance considered by the audience as one of the highlights.

The Prima Donna of CATS was none other than Grizabella, played by the acclaimed Delia Hannah. She played her character’s dejection and the yearn for acceptance by her fellow cats with so much emotion, and it was most moving in capturing the hearts of the audience. It is no secret that Memory is possibly the reason why people come to watch CATS, and Hannah’s performance of Memory was, in my opinion, on par with Elaine Paige’s version, the original from the 1983 album recording.

Tonight’s performance of CATS was undoubtedly one of the best I’ve seen for a musical. It was 14 years ago since I last saw this musical and I could never forget that day, because Old Deuteronomy signed my song book during the intermission. Now, I have another memory to remember, when I saw the greatest performance of my favorite musical on April 14, 2009. CATS is indeed, now and forever.

Pictures by Fred Chin [SLIDESHOW HERE]

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3 thoughts on “CATS: review

  1. What a lovely and glowing review you’ve written about the Singapore season of CATS at the Esplanade.
    I’m glad you’re a fellow fan of the show just like me. The company was a pitch-perfect company that you wished that this performance would never end. Every one was superb and magnificent in their part, and Delia Hannah really sang Grizabella’s part to the rafters. I felt she was more like the cat she was portraying, rather than an Elaine Paige clone.
    Elsewhere, I liked the man who took the role of Munkustrap, and John O’Hara’s Tugger. I know many CATS fans across the world identify this role with John Partridge but John O’Hara fits the flamboyant part like a glove. Also, I would be very glad to mention Michael John Hurney’s impression of John Gielgud in his portrayal of Gus, and then a superb Pavarotti impression in the Growltiger’s Last Stand sequence.
    Yet, please could I mention something? You were mentioning that you were listening to the Broadway cast album when you were younger, and then you mention Elaine Paige’s rendition of Memory. Well, I can guess you were listening to the original London cast album, as the Broadway cast album had Betty Buckley. Most of the Singapore record shops tended to stock the 1981 London cast album, so it has been the more widely available CATS album in this country. I might mention that the Broadway production features the revisions that Lloyd-Webber and his creative team made to the score in New York. The original Elaine Paige album features a jazzier version of Mungojerrie & Rumpelteazer and a different duet for Growltiger and Griddlebone. I have listened to both the London and Broadway recordings and tend to like the Broadway version much much more.
    Anyway, I’m very very glad you enjoyed the show just like I have.

  2. I’m very heartened that you enjoyed this season of CATS like I have, and I’m glad to find a fellow an in you. I think this was an exceptionally superb cast, and everyone fitted their parts and suited the characters they were playing. I like how Delia Hannah portrayed Grizabella her way, and didn’t need to sound like an Elaine Paige clone. One could hear the pathos in her rendition of Memory. John O’Hara’s Tugger was flambuoyant and flashy, and he really shone and made the part his own. I also like Shaun Rennie’s Munkustrap and Michael-John Hurney’s Gus (with his personable Pavarotti impression during the Growltiger sequence.)
    I was very happy to be hearing the revised version of the score, as there were changes to the musical since the world-premiere in London (and the London cast album with Elaine Paige, the same cast album as you’ve been listening to all this while.) This production contains the revised versions of Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer and also the revised Growltiger. The first London performance and original London album had a pub song in the middle of the scene, and Lloyd-Webber replaced it with the pastiche opera number for the Broadway premiere.

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