Well-loved moggy musical shows it’s got more lives in it yet
Time should have caught up with the musical Cats long ago but somehow this old moggy keeps on keeping on, fuelled by its peculiar charm and the incurable sentiment of audiences everywhere.
The latest New Zealand production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s adaptation of T.S.Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats milks both until emotions run dry.
Admittedly there’s only so much you can do with a musical with no real plot, subtext, and let’s be honest here, little point apart from being a series of musical divertissements set around Eliot’s elegantly witty verses.
Somehow the sight of a large group of adults in lycra cat suits yowling and mewing and, God help us, licking themselves should carry a warning that it might prove harmful to 21st century audiences. But like every cat who has ever owned me, its charm and eccentricity ingratiates itself into your affections.
Directed by Geraldine Brophy, the predominately young cast gave their all and much more but somehow it failed to completely resonate. Perhaps the catnip lacked a certain potency but there was something indefinable lacking.
There were some excellent performances – notably Steven Ray as Gus the theatre cat and Phil Grieve as a splendidly avuncular Bustopher Jones – but much of the solo singing while admirably strident lacked subtlety and shading while some of the ensemble singing was somewhat ragged.
While a highly accomplished actor like Eilish Moran injected character and depth into the role of Grisabella, her climatic version of Cat’s best-known song Memory added new meaning to the word ‘‘emote.’’
The cast’s dancing was enthusiastic, energetic and polished, especially Greg Jarema as Rum Tum Tugger who succeeded in channelling both Mick Jagger and Elvis into an extroverted performance.
Cats continues to prove the truth of the old theatrical maxim that you don’t mess with success. Nevertheless, Brophy can’t resist a little tinkering here and there. But somehow decking the cast in fairy lights for a visual climax didn’t quite tweak my whiskers.
The real star of the evening was Chris Reddington’s extraordinary set design, which transformed the Christchurch Town Hall stage into a glorious Steamboat Punk extravaganza. It’s worth the price of a ticket to see it.
‘‘Its charm and eccentricity ingratiates itself into your affections.’’