I know, the 80s was a long time ago, and I’m not an Andrew Lloyd Webber fan (to put it lightly), but I’d still nearly made it to 50 without seeing Cats, and while this seemed mostly to me to be a matter of expressing my own taste in musical theater, I had begun to question if I’d actually shut myself out of a little slice of history. But seeing the Story of [British] Musicals made me think that rather than avoiding a schmaltzy show with tunes not suited to my tastes, I’d instead cut myself out of a slice of history. The program described Cats as a groundbreaking show, with its non-linear throughline (i.e. lack of plot) and its focus on bringing poems to life, not to mention the entire movement style and makeup.
But as the leg-warmer wearing crew came on the stage and their amplified voices blared painfully from an overhead speaker, I began to fear the worst. This show had been promoted on the back of a has-been pop star rather than any kind of musical theater performer, which indicated to me they were really just trying to pack the house with curiosity seekers rather than attract people who want to see a top-quality production. And, ooh, they’d added some rap – but it was really rap music as written by musical theater hacks, about as believable as Blondie’s “Rapture.” I struggled to find an emotion to hold on to – was this supposed to be anything other than pretty and bland? What was it about a woman wearing a long coat and dreads that was somehow supposed to make us feel wistful and nostalgic? The whole thing skated by with nary a moment of genuine feeling until Mr. Mistoffelees (Joseph Poulton) blazed onto stage like a comet – then, holy cats, what a performance! Leaps, spins, kicks, non-stop amazement and all while dressed in a doubtlessly extremely warm head to toe black spangled bodysuit. I don’t think there’s a moment in this show worth remembering aside from the time he spent on stage, but I’m excited to think I got to see one blazing talent during this dreary night – not that I wasn’t seeing a London quality cast of performers, but they were unable to shine under the weight of so much schmaltz. (White cat: you were great too.)
I gotta say, there’s no getting around the fact that never in a million years was this musical ever intended for the likes of me. I want intelligence, I want to be moved, I want to see talent and be amazed. I don’t want to be coddled and cuted. I want songs that matter; I want my night to be worthwhile. I don’t want fluff. And Cats, with its full house of apparently satisfied patrons (at £60 a pop), deserves to be put in a sack and tossed in the Thames forever: and now I can say this not based upon my best guess but upon actually having gone and watched it. Please, somebody warn me the next time I try to see an ALW show that we do not in any way share an aesthetic sense and send me in search of something else.
(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, January 20th, 2015. Unlike any of the professional reviews you might read, my tickets was paid for, in full, by myself, and my level of disappointment is based in part of what I expected to see for that price. It’s booking until April 25th, if I haven’t somehow discouraged you, but may I recommend you try to see Assassins or The Scottsboro Boys instead.)