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review Theodore Lai
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s CATS certainly delivered the cheerful band of feline critters it promises in its title. Inspired by T. S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, the beloved production opened its second run in Singapore last month at the Marina Bay Sands Theater, boasting an all-British cast.
One should be cautioned, however, to enter the theater as a child and leave one’s intellect at the door. Cats is intricately designed and performed, but its shallow plot and convoluted dance sequences may strike many as vapid.
The play opened with an enchanting atmosphere conjured by a beautiful full moon in the middle of a night sky. Twinkling lights adorned the set to simulate stars, and a melancholic blue glow created a charmingly romantic atmosphere. The first act introduced the trope of Jellicle cats, who gather once a year to hold the ceremony of song and dance known as the Jellicle Ball. The head patriarch, Old Deuteronomy, leads the procession to decide who amongst them is worthy to be reborn on the Heaviside Layer, which the play uses as an allusion to heaven. Webber’s musical score beautifully captured much of the characters’ personalities. The clandestine mystery cat Macavity was given a jazzy bass line reminiscent of Henry Mancini’s theme from “The Pink Panther”. Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer, a mischievous pair of feline troublemakers, playfully teased the audience as a cheeky piano line accompanied their impish escapades. Grizabella, perhaps the most relatable character in the musical, sadly crooned the famous pop standard “Memory” to mark the end of each act.
It is therefore disappointing that the praiseworthy elements of Cats end up betraying its success as a musical. The biggest hairball that Cats coughs up is its inability to properly pull itself together. The psychedelic lighting drew too much attention away from the characters, and the choreography grew stale long before the first act came to a close. Too many characters were fighting for attention, and I grew tired as feline after feline was rolled out in a crude mechanical fashion. The novelty present at the beginning gradually faded when I realized that this would constitute the remainder of the evening.
Most painful was the disappointing rendition of “Memory”. The classic smash hit failed to capture the poignancy that brought audiences to tears when it debuted in 1981. When given the stage, the glassy-eyed Grizabella fought to impress rather than inspire. The performance was more a plea for acceptance than a nostalgic reminiscence of the past.
If one keeps in mind Cats’s conception as a revue, its lack of complexity can be forgiven. What little storyline presented exists only to string together the music and dance choreography. We must then judge Cats for what it is: a visual and auditory spectacle that manages to land on its feet despite its crowded string of characters and convoluted artistic direction.
Photograph licensed under “The Really Useful Group Ltd.”