Cats - the musicalPhoto – Hagen Hopkins

You can try as you might to not like it, but resistance is futile, because CATS is a wondrous thing. It is such an indefatigable torrent of superb choreographic dexterity, theatrical inventiveness and musical joie de vivre that I defy anyone to leave the theatre without a smile on their face.

One of the ideas in CATS is the value of memory; of looking back, revering the old, of second chances and rebirth. These themes similarly apply to the revival of this 1980s musical theatre juggernaut – a show that ran for 21 years on the West End and 18 years on Broadway. As so much 1980s music is enjoying a revival, it seems to be perfect timing to revive a production of CATS, resplendent as it is with leg warmers, lycra, jazz hands (paws) and electro funk.

The burning questions about this revival are: has it stood the test of time, and how will a new generation of audiences respond to it. The music does sound dated, perhaps it always did. Despite its 80s trappings, it sounds and feels more like a 1970s work – the tunes, especially the some of the vocal chorus work, is reminiscent of Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar. But is that actually a criticism or just a description of the style?

Musical theatre audiences brought up over the last thirty years on the sophisticated rhythms and chord structures of Stephen Sondheim and others may find the plodding monotony of some of CATS’s melodies repetitive. They often plonk so predictably on the beat that you can’t help but anticipate the next phrase.

But there is so much verve and diversity in the music too. And the orchestration is a triumph. Musical Director Paul White’s band crackles with energy and precision. Moreover, the music is the vehicle for some stupendous singing. Matt McFarlane as Munkustrap, Jason Wasley as Old Deuteronomy and Bree Langridge as Electra are all wonderful, to name a few.

Each of the three collaborators – Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, Director Trevor Nunn and Choreographer Gillian Lynne – have cleverly mined the history of their respective art forms to deliver a wonderful example of imaginative, carnivalesque theatre making. The creative team has given the audience a bit of everything – if you don’t like one style, surely you’ll like another. The structure is borrowed from the Music Hall/Vaudevillian tradition of variety: first there is a ballet act, followed by light opera, then an acrobatic act, followed by a rap routine, a bit of melodrama and so on.

Lynne’s background with The Royal Ballet is evident in a dance aesthetic which is based on classical and jazz ballet with a little bit of funk, acrobatics and one of the show’s highlights – a sensational tap routine by Holly Meegan as Jennyanydots – thrown in for good measure.

Victoria the White Cat, danced by Jade Hu-Wen Coutts, performs an exquisite ballet solo early in the first act. Christopher Favaloro as Mr Mistoffelees draws the show towards its close with an overly long, though rapturously applauded, dance/acrobatic routine.

The genius of this show is that it is deceptively simple, and yet the confluence of the tremendous talents of the three collaborators has produced a work that is playful and complex. The cleverness of CATS creeps up on you as the production unfolds. It doesn’t exist so much in a single moment but as an accumulation of original, beautifully executed elements. The direction, choreography and music work together to produce moment after moment of theatrical delights so that the audience happily forgives an overly long dance sequence here, or a decidedly naff song there, or a flimsy plotline.

Director Trevor Nunn brilliantly uses a raft of theatrical styles and cultural references to shape his drama. The ensemble storytelling style is a clear nod to the influence of Berthold Brecht, Peter Brook and Joan Littlewood. The way the cats make use of found objects from the junk yard to assemble a steam train is just one example. True to this style, Nunn incorporates older English theatre traditions including Gilbert and Sullivan, melodrama and circus. And if that isn’t enough, Nunn even throws in references not only to Christian and Druidical ritual, but also science fiction, drawing a parallel between humans beamed up into space in films of the time like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and the reincarnation of cats.

Despite the ensemble nature of the show, Delta Goodrem, playing the faded glamourpuss, Grizabella, stakes her claim to being the indisputable star. If there is one thing that she has learnt from her time as a judge on The Voice it is that “big notes win votes” and did she ever belt out the show’s big hit, Memory. Goodrem does have a gorgeous, impressive voice, however her rendition relied too heavily on vibrato and volume over nuance to convey the emotion of the song. This is her first experience of performing musical theatre and she is still a little physically awkward, especially in her dance sequence in Act 1. That she is quite tall and the only person on stage in high heels doesn’t help. She either has to loom over the rest of the cast or stoop to be on their level, making her appear more like a praying mantis than a cat. The audience, many of whom were clearly there to see her, loved her regardless and responded just like a talent show audience with a whoop, a stamp and a roar of approval.

Give yourself over the carnival that is CATS. It is so gloriously, wonderfully, joyously, inventively, celebratorily, skilfully done that the whole night sweeps over you quite magically.

Lunchbox Theatrical Productions, David Atkins Enterprises and BASE Entertainment Asia in association with The Really Useful Group present
Andrew Lloyd Webber

Director Trevor Nunn

2015–6 Australian Tour

Capitol Theatre
Dates: From Friday 30 October 2015
Tickets: from $74.90 (transaction fees may apply)
Bookings: Ticketmaster 136 100 |

Derwent Entertainment Centre
Dates: From Thursday 10 December – Sunday 13 December 2015
Tickets: from $79.90 (transaction fees may apply)
Bookings: Ticketmaster 136 100 |

Regent Theatre
Dates: From Friday 18 December 2015
Tickets: from $74.90 (transaction fees may apply)
Bookings: Ticketmaster 136 100 |

Lyric Theatre, QPAC
Dates: From Friday 29 January 2016
Tickets: from $74.90 (transaction fees may apply)
Bookings: QPAC 136 246 |

Festival Centre
Dates: Friday 18 March to Sunday 10 April, 2016
Tickets: from $69.90 (transaction fees will apply)
Bookings: BASS 131 246 |

Crown Theatre
Dates: Saturday, 16 April to Sunday, 8 May 2016
Tickets:from $74.90 (transaction fees may apply)
Bookings: Ticketmaster 136 100 |