Attending the opening night of Cats was exciting for a number of reasons: firstly, there was the promise of bumping into a Perthonality in the foyer. Would it be an A-List newsreader, or a former Wildcats player? More importantly, it was my first time seeing one of musical theatre’s most revered productions. Like Susannah Carr’s television career, Cats is one musical that simply will not fade away.
Based on T.S. Eliot’s Old Possums Book of Practical Cats, a childhood favourite of Andrew Lloyd Weber, Cats has long been derided for its relatively wafer-thin plot. Unlike other jukebox musicals like Mamma Mia! or Jersey Boys, the story takes a backseat to the musical numbers. Lloyd Weber’s composition of Eliot’s verse follows the Jellicle tribe as they determine which cat will be reborn into new life. Before this ‘Jellicle Choice’ is made, each feline must introduce themselves as a potential candidate.
With synthesisers dominating the score from the get-go, this musical is unmistakably a creature of the 80s, though efforts had been made to modernise the production and appease the millenials in the crowd. The gorgeous set included faded Cadbury billboards and devastatingly hipster hanging lights, but the most notable change was the revision of the character ‘Rum Tum Tugger’. He was transformed from a rock God into a rapper with the help of gold chains and braids (troublingly) like Bieber. The swagger of his performance would have greatly benefited the second act. Whilst Mr. Mistoffelees dazzled the crowd with a magic routine, a Madama Butterfly inspired dream sequence from Gus the Theatre Cat, was muted by comparison.
As the cats made way for Grizabella, it was clear that “Memory” was upon us. Regardless of one’s penchant for musicals, there is no denying the power of this song. Delta Goodrem, who played Grizabella on the East Coast, was unable to make it to the Perth leg due to her commitments on The Voice. Ironically, in seeking to find Australia’s next ‘vocal talent’ she deprived us of her own. Yet it was difficult to see how Goodrem could have rivalled the performance of Delia Hannah. The delivery of “Memory”, arguably the pinnacle of Lloyd Weber’s composition, was raw, intimate, and the evening highlight. By the time Grizabella had risen from the ground, I was thrilled to goosebumps. Based on this song alone, it is clear why Cats has prevailed beyond its nine lives.
Words by Tom Durkin
Cats the Musical runs at Crown Perth 18 April to 8 May. Tickets available here.