With its unusual source material and non-generic approach to mainstream musical theatre, CATS should never have been destined to have universal appeal. However, as the fantastic touring cast proved in Edinburgh last night, CATS has actually come to be a shining example of how musicals need not be ‘dumbed down’ with easy-to-follow dialogue for them to be both relatable and enjoyable for a widespread audience.
Through the show lacks a coherent narrative and is instead a dance-driven celebration of T.S Elliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, the loose premise is that a tribe of cats called The Jellicles meet once a year at the annual Jellicle Ball where their wise leader, Old Deuteronomy (Nicholas Pound), selects one cat to be reborn and given another chance at life. The chosen one is Grizabella (Joanna Ampil), a lonely and disillusioned female who left the pack to explore the world but found herself to be unwelcome on her return.
Whilst the CATS storyline is admittedly vague and confusing to follow at times, the stunning costumes, agile dancers and varied score more than make up for it. With more audience interaction than any musical I’ve ever seen, the demand on the actors to maintain their character’s detailed mannerisms is remarkably high and they rose to the challenge without fault. Each ensemble cast member morphed equally as seamlessly into their feline roles so it would be unfair to single out individual stand-out performers in this production.
The chance to get up-close and personal with the costumed cast proved to be a huge hit with the many children in the audience, who watched wide-eyed and mesmerised as the slinky cats repeatedly prowled off the stage and up the aisles, putting them right in the centre of the action. Mr Mistoffelees, a bold and eccentric magic-inspired number, also went down a treat with the younger members of the audience. It was a bold and eccentric explosion of colour and quirky characters set to a vivaciously catchy tune and Joel Morris (who was standing in for Joseph Poulton) utilised the opportunity to prove himself to be a fantastic under study who is more than worthy of a permanent leading role.
The biggest tear-jerker of the night, unsurprisingly, came in the form Memory, the biggest hit to be spawned from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s legendary Broadway and West End show. Ampil sang the song with such raw heart and gritty emotion that every member of the audience could feel her sorrow, even if they had lost their way with the plot by the time it was sung.
A wildly wacky and entertaining show that you should see whilst you can!
CATS runs at the Edinburgh Playhouse until Saturday 2nd March 2013.