“Cats” debuted in London,1981; based upon T. S. Eliot’s 1939 “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, with Merlin magic, stupefied audiences with his innovative, anthropomorphic felines; it was a sensation that captured the imaginations of theater goers throughout the world and continues to do so, even today, with this uneven production by Academy Award winning director Tom Hooper (“The King’s Speech”). What went awry? The atmospheric artificiality of London’s streets? Too much blabbering and pattering? Miscasting, Idris Elba (“Luther”) as mendacious “Macavity”? Too “dog”matic? Or is it a “cat”astrophic example of “familiarity breeds contempt”?
What worked? Jennifer Hudson as “Grizabella” with unparalleled octaves gives new empathy to “Memory”; Rebel Wilson is a comical, roly-poly “Jennyanydots”; Steven McRae, “Skimbleshanks” won my vote for the “Heaviside Layer” at the annual Jellicle Ball; Judi Dench, “Old Deuteronomy”, whether Old or New Testament, adorned whiskers, is still the illustrious, Judi Dench.
Sitting with viewers hovering between 5-10 years old, nary a word or whisper; their rapt, mesmerized, cemented wonderment glued to the screen; awestruck, they clapped valiantly at the conclusion; timidly chagrined, I wanted to crawl back to those years of enchantment, days of fantasy, where dreams might be actualized, cats cavort, pigs fly, and Peter never grows up.