Cats are interesting creatures. Some are cute and cuddly, many are manipulative and eager to cause mischief. Videos are all over the internet of the antics they get up to and they provide some of the most viral content the web has seen. With their different personalities it's easy to see just why a musical has been made all about them.
The audience joins CATS the Musical in the middle of a junkyard, where the Jellicle cats are preparing for their annual Jellicle Ball. Each year, Jellicle leader Old Deuteronomy must make the Jellicle Choice, deciding which cat will be sent to the Heaviside layer to be reborn into a new life. From this point, large portions of the musical are dedicated to introducing the audience to different types of feline through song and dance, whilst the cats interact with members of the crowd, not afraid to prance between columns and rows of audience members whilst delivering stunning vocals.
One of the show's most popular characters is The Rum Tum Tugger. Andrew Lloyd Webber decided back in 2014 that he wanted to give a hip-hop update to Rum Tum, making him "a contemporary street cat" complete with chains, baggy pants and an odd looking hat. Basically, a lot of stereotypes thrown into one character and then on top of it all, the casting of a black man in the role - Marcquelle Ward. It all just feels a little uncomfortable at times. There was nothing wrong with the original rockstar version of the song, but Marcquelle does what he can with the revamped role he is given. I would have liked to instead have seen Marcquelle take on the Rum Tum Tugger fans were accustomed to before the switch.
Growltiger's Last Stand is a sight to behold, with the Siamese invasion allowing some true drama to grip the audience. When there's a theatre show playing out in a theatre show however there's always chance for confusion and the segment itself did need a little tightening through diction, despite the incredible choreography.
A standout performance comes from the hilarious Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer, a duo that always end up causing trouble no matter where they reside. Joe Henry and Emily Langham are brilliant together with a lot of chemistry and on stage acrobatics, bringing energy to the production through their infectious and individual personalities.
Another of course comes from Anita Louise Combe in the role of Grizabella. She had the momentous task of delivering perhaps the musical's most famous tune, 'Memory', but did so in style. The audience lapped up her outcast, worn and torn demeanour, just begging the Jellicle clan to accept her as one of their own.
Not enough good can be said about the CATS orchestra and choreography team. Songs and instrumental are piercing and dramatic, packed full of emotion and performed with passion. Choreography is tight, well-rehearsed and inspiring.
Unfortunately the story embedded within Cats doesn't seem strong enough to really hold everyone's attention all the way through. It's pleasant enough and the cast are truly an ensemble, doing the best with the content they're given. It's through them that those watching are allowed an escape and anything less than stellar would have left a bad taste in the mouth. The talent on stage are all to thank for an enjoyable evening for all in attendance.
CATS the Musical runs until February 13 at the Opera House in Manchester.
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