CatsIf cats have nine lives, this lot must be nearing its apogee. Without anywhere else to go, for this season it has been reinvented as a spectacular, loud and impressively gymnastic song and dance extravaganza, strong on spectacle, short on characterisation or story. 

The choreography and directions (by Jo-anne Robinson) are a fabulous vehicle for some extraordinarily talented, lithe and supple dancers who can also sing, and who made one wonder how the human body can be made to do some of the things they did! Outstanding in this context was Adrian Ricks as Mr. Mistoffelees – a remarkable dancer.  Other noteworthy performances came from John O’Hara as the Rum Tum Tugger, and Shaun Rennie as Munkustrap. While the tap dancing was good, we missed the cockroaches. The beetl-ey things were a poor replacement.

The score has been re-orchestrated (if that is the word) electronically, so it is pumped out, without a human being in sight. (It’s extraordinary to think of its being performed by just the four people listed in the program). In fact the overture was wound up to almost the pain threshold.  Mercifully there is enough variety in the score for quieter moments, some of which were quite sensitively handled by this competent professional cast. However their emphasis was clearly on the dance, as much of T S Eliot’s words were lost  in the noise and the action. It was noteworthy that good diction was possible when it was demonstrated by Lisa-Marie Parker as Jellyorum, introducing Gus the Theatre Cat (Michael-John Hurney), who in turn showed some nice depth of characterisation.

As Gus so poignantly notes, “These modern productions are all very well…” but when the cheapest seats are nearly $80 and the many Cats devotees have probably already poured many dollars into the capacious coffers of the Lloyd Webber machine, they deserve the best this well worn show can offer. They got a dazzling dance performance with some nice effects such as building a train from junk, and they heard Grizabella (Delia Hannah) sing the signature song (“Memory”) very evocatively, and saw her ascend spectacularly to the Heaviside layer as if on an amalgam of a Hollywood space ship and a crown befitting the Queen of Heaven in glory, to the rich baritone of Old Deuteronomy (John Ellis). They missed some of the fine poetry and a lot of the subtleties of the rubbish tip set (by John Napier) because of the lighting (David Hersey) that was at times excitingly illuminating of the dance, and at others too dim or distracting.

This is a show which everyone should see at least once in their lifetime. If you’ve seen it before - be ready. If you haven’t, grab this opportunity. It is a spectacular experience. The show has had an amazing run on Broadway and in London, and is recycled now for Australia and a number of Asia pacific countries after more than two decades. The question remains, does it deserve any more lives? Perhaps  nein.

Lunchbox Theatrical Productions and David Atkins Enterprises in association with the Really Useful Group and Adelaide Festival Centre present
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber | Based on Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot

Venue: Festival Theatre | Adelaide Festival Centre
Dates: 31 December 2009 - 24 January 2010
Times: Tuesday 7.30pm, Wednesday 1.30pm & 7.30pm, Thursday 7.30pm, Friday 7.30pm, Saturday 1.30pm & 7.30pm, Sunday 3pm
Tickets: Adult from $79.90 | Family of 4 (Buy 4) 2A,2J/1A,3J from $290 | Conc from $69.90
Duration: 2 hours 45 minutes (with 20 minute interval)

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