Whether you have seen Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats fifty times or whether you are experiencing the show for the first time this week at The Liverpool Empire, there is one thing about this production that will immediately stand out: It is vast.
The stage design for this revamped production, which depicts an old scrap yard replete with pipes, broken down cars and rusting wheel hubs amongst a whole mass of other detritus, is just jaw dropping and brings so much more to a show already crammed with highlights.
Then there are the make-up, some of the most spectacular lighting this theatre has seen and the a series of glitzy, glittery, slinky costumes which – always elaborate and revealing – this time around become something almost ethereal, making us the audience want to reach out and touch all the more. There also seems to be far more opportunity to do that, too, with this production, as different members of the cast spend nearly as much time amongst the audience as they do on stage which, of course, adds yet further dimensions to the proceedings.
Based on The Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, a series of collected poems written by T S Eliot, the premise is that an annual gathering of all cats gather so that wisest cat of all, Old Deuteronomy played here with fabulous reserve by Kevin Stephen-Jones, selects that cat which will be sent to the Heavyside Layer and, thus, be reborn.
Sounds a bit ponderous but, rest assured, that this assumption could not be further from the truth with the at times bedazzling choreography and superb singing supplied by all, but particularly Marcquelle Ward playing an especially cool, Rap and Break Dance Maestro Rum Tum Tigger and Marianne Benedict as the faded star that is Grizabella.
When an actor has a role that is central to what’s happening and is, comparatively, on stage for only a short period of time,when their moment comes then that actor has to absolutely nail what it is they have been chosen to do.
So when Memory strikes up for its third incarnation of the evening, the audience visibly lean forward in anticipation of that “Elaine Paige” moment that is so well loved. Does Marianne Benedict deliver? Oh yes, with spontaneous gooseflesh breaking out in reaction to the power of her emotion riddled performance and with many leaping to their feet at its climax.
Cats may well be approaching its 40th year and may still retain a place in the hearts of those who have seen it in its many productions, not least of which being the children that clearly loving dressing up to see it.
However what Lloyd Webber has ultimately created is a show that simply will not date, will never lose its glitz and will have audiences banking their experience forever in their memory.
Liverpool Empire Theatre
July 11 – July 16, 2016
Associate Set Designer: Alan Walker
Make Up: John Napier
Cast Includes: Marianne Benedict, Shiv Rabheru, Javier Cid, Marcquelle Ward, Greg Castiglioni,
Running Time: 2 hrs 45 mins
PR Rating: ***** Memorable