Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Cats – never quite achieves its ambition of becoming The Greatest Showcat

Evita easily translated to film with a sweeping story of misused power that was rooted in reality. The cinematic version of Cats is more of an ask with neither huge crowd scenes to wow nor gripping characters with which to pour out your empathy.

The music is good, the singing fresh and the bringing to life of performing mice and marching cockroaches works well in the CGI world. Paying homage to TS Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats through the recital of verse is less effective, and the initial appearance of Grizabella the Glamour Cat (Jennifer Hudson) is somewhat underwhelming, though her later rendition of Memory is superb.

Steve McRae’s routine as Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat impresses, James Corden’s cameo as Bustopher Jones is passable as a star turn, while Ian McKellen shines as Gus the Theatre Cat and Judi Dench should play every role from now on dressed up as Old Deuteronomy given the sense of presence and warmth she wraps up in that furry catsuit.

The last time I saw Cats was on a school stage, showing off the dancing rather the musical talent of the pupils. In Tom Hooper’s new version, the dancing is less thrilling – that’s more about the distance from the screen and the style of editing than the quality of the performances – though Francesca Hayward creates some very graceful moves and shapes while playing the abandoned kitten Victoria.

The finale of the Jellicle Ball requiring the magical abilities of Mr Mistoffelees (played charmingly by wide-eyed Laurie Davidson) is definitely the story’s high point, though it never achieves its ambition to become The Greatest Showcat.

Instead, Cats translates Andrew Lloyd Webber’s popular musical to the silver screen in a way that works for anyone already familiar with the music and story, but doesn’t add much to what a televised version of the stage show could achieve … the 1998 film of the West End production is still available! Update – having now watched the 1998 DVD, the new film has marginally more story and less confusion than the watching-paint-dry televised stage version. Hmmmm ...

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