There are two kinds of people in America: those who’ve seen Cats performed live on stage and those who haven’t. Despite numerous roadshow performances across the U.S. since the 1980’s and its nearly two decade run on Broadway, most Americans have not seen Cats performed live.
If you have seen it on stage, you likely recall the songs, the costumes, the sets and general vibe of the show. Many embraced it for its creativity. Others found it cheesy.
If you have never seen Cats on stage, you need to know this about Cats the movie: It’s a musical. Not much of a plot. Songs with lyrics by St. Louis’s own T.S. Eliot and melodies by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Several cool cat costumes. A variety of fun, clever sets.
The new Cats movie from director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech, Les Misérables, The Danish Girl) combines the show’s catchy tunes with flashy dance numbers performed by a talented cast. Some of the stars you know: Idris Elba, Judi Dench, James Corden, Ian McKellan, Jennifer Hudson, Rebel Wilson and Taylor Swift.
One performer who you don’t know is one of the film’s dance stars, Francesca Hayward from London’s Royal Ballet. Not only is she a joy to watch as a dancer, her elfin appearance is a reason the camera so often focuses on her face.
As with most musicals, some songs are better than others and the energy of the show fluctuates throughout. Highlights include Taylor Swift’s Macavity (Elba is Macavity the cat; Swift sings the song) and the Fosse-like dance bit that goes with it. Jennifer Hudson’s performance of the show’s “hit” tune Memory is the most moving version I’ve ever heard of this emotional song.
Judi Dench as Old Deuteronomy provides an enjoyable endnote as she recites How To Ad-Dress A Cat. The amazing Dench, who just turned 85, is a beloved presence who adds class to most everything she’s in. (In all the stage versions I’ve seen and soundtrack albums I’ve heard, Old Deuteronomy was a male cat. Now OD is a female.)
Cats the movie is a fun, mostly lightweight amusement that the whole family (except maybe the young squirmers) can enjoy. And a movie ticket at your local cinema will set you back quite a bit less that the inevitable roadshow revival ticket at the Fox in a few years.