Cats continues at Blackpool Opera House until 5 September (no shows 4–9 August).
Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
It’s become known locally as ‘the Mamma Mia! effect’. When the feelgood hit musical set up shop last summer at Blackpool Opera House it was as if the wheel – or at least the showbusiness version of one – had been re-invented.
Eighteen months of advance marketing worked wonders and the show was everywhere, raising the bar of public awareness. But what do you follow the stats of a success story like that with? Well, how about a well-worn winner – with the odd new twist or two.
Cats has ‘previous’ with Blackpool. It first came to the Opera House in 1989 for its first UK run outside of London and played for six months, breaking box office records along the way (and seeing the demolition of the Royal Box to make way for John Napier’s iconic set design spilling into the auditorium).
It was back again in 2003 for a shorter stay as part of a national tour and now, third time perhaps even luckier, it’s here for an eight-week season fresh from its latest West End revival – and Blackpool Opera House is the only UK theatre it will be touring to this year.
A frisson of excitement followed the announcement of its arrival. After all, the London revival saw Nicole Scherzinger stepping into shoes previously filled by the likes of Elaine Paige and Marti Webb.
So an eyebrow or two was raised when Jane McDonald was announced for the role of the faded feline beauty Grizabella in Blackpool.
All right, the former Cruise resident diva who now tours consistently with her own band has always had a firm Blackpool following, but has she got a track record in musical theatre?
Well, despite ironically fluffing the lines of ‘Memory’ at a press conference to announce her signing she has (once again) proved her doubters wrong.
She has paid her dues and knows how to work a room – even one as large as this, playing her cards here very carefully and cleverly. Even her most devoted fans would be hard pressed to recognise her in her feline rags and streaky make-up and there were some worried looks when she initially understated Grizabella’s pathos with a watery version of the oft repeated song.
But she’s a trouper and sensibly saves her roof-shaking vocals for a metamorphic final shot at the Andrew Lloyd Webber anthem – earning a deserved standing ovation and proving she can actually do the over familiar song full justice.
But Cats is a collective. An ensemble of frighteningly talented performers and a series of musical scenarios that have become a theatrical greatest hits.
Choreographically it’s always been contemporary dance meets rock video and its third Blackpool run sees a refreshed and revitalised production saturated with young talent making the most of things.
The rapping Rum Tum Tugger (Jack Butterworth) is charismatic, Mark John Richardson’s Mr Mistoffelees is up there with the best, and Evan James as a captivating Skimbleshanks is another standout in a marvellous cast.
As ever a live orchestra – under the direction of Adrian Kirk – simply adds to the excitement and the huge Opera House stage provides the perfect setting for a show that gets better with each revival.
Readers may also be interested in:
News – Cats returns to the London Palladium in October following Blackpool run
News – Beverley Knight to star as Grizabella in Cats at the London Palladium