Cats – London Palladium

4. Antoine Murray-Straughan (Rum Tum Tugger) at the London Palladium. Photo credit Alessandro Pinna

Antoine Murray-Straughan in Cats at the London Palladium. Picture: Alessandro Pinna

Cats is booking at the London Palladium Booking until 28 February.

It is 12 years since Cats departed the West End, and John Napier’s rubbish-tip turned its last revolve at the New London Theatre. Now it is back, minus the revolving stage, but with a set that spills out into the stalls and the circle, through which Spandex-clad dancers slink onto stage to perform an arresting evening of dance.

The 1980s origins of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical are evident throughout, thanks in no small part to the heavy use of synthesizers in all their retro, faux-brass glory. Napier’s distinctive designs from the original West End, from the set to the costumes, are for the most part retained in all their leg-warming glory. Anybody coming to the Palladium for a hefty dose of musical theatre nostalgia will find themselves well-served, even as the cats who prance and prowl through the aisles light up their new LED ‘eyes’ perched atop their furry heads.

Choreographer Gillian Lynne’s style, predominantly fusing disco and ballet, is similarly redolent of another era, despite having kept many a production choreographer in routines to mimic throughout the intervening years. And despite the cheesiness that pervades throughout, it is delivered with so much enthusiasm from the cast that one would have to have a heart of stone not to get swept up in the moment.

Indeed, it is the dance element of Cats that is its greatest strength. TS Eliot’s poetry does not make great lyrical content when sung, but it does conjure up a world of eccentric characters that introduce a series of entertaining solo numbers, including nods to traditional theatrical dance styles. Laurie Scarth’s Jennyanydots leads the whole company in a rambunctious tap number, while Benjamin Yates and Dawn Williams pair up as the Vaudevillian double act of Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer. Paul F Monaghan in a trio of disparate roles, and Joseph Poulton as Mr Mistoffelees, also impress.

In an attempt to give the show a contemporary twist, flashy tomcat Rum Tum Tugger’s solo has been transformed into a street dance-and-rap number, an audacious move that works thanks to Antoine Murray-Straughan’s wholesale and infectious performance. But all eyes on this revival have been turned on Grizabella, the faded and jaded glamourpuss whose totemic ballad of ‘Memory’ closes both acts of the show. Nicole Scherzinger fails to capture the character’s decrepitude, making her appearances as a feline on the verge of death falter.

It is not a fault of Scherzinger’s comparatively young age, since Elaine Paige was three years younger when Cats opened in 1981. But in a show where any narrative structure seems almost accidental, it is not an acting performance which the audience are waiting to see, but a vocal one. And in that role, Scherzinger satisfies, if little more. Those waiting for a big belt in the Act II finale will be satisfied enough, however.

As a star vehicle, then, it may falter a little. But Cats has never been about one name above all others, instead being an ensemble show that resembles nothing else. And in that vein, its revival is broadly welcomed.

Scott Matthewman

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