Edwin Hopkins
December 26, 2019 ยท
For those familiar with the stage musical, Cats will be quite entertaining.

While stationed at Maguire AFB, NJ, I was blessed to see Cats at the Winter Garden Theater in New York City. It was 17 August 1988 ( I still have the ticket stub and Playbill program) when I boarded what I think was a Greyhound bus to the Big Apple and was pleasantly surprised that the bus station was smack in the middle of Broadway. So I had no problem finding the theater. I was doubly blessed with $50.00 orchestra seats (B-7). I’ll always remember how magnificent the performance was, so naturally I was a bit excited to see, after over 30 years, what the movie adaptation would be like.

For those, and other musical lovers, familiar with the Tony award winning sensation, despite some obvious nuances, Cats should be quite enjoyable. For others, it may be a stretch to sit through. It is a glorious celebration of an earnest, yet hopeful feline world in which yours truly could eagerly sing along with the cast.

Based upon “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” by Missouri born author T.S. Eliot, the musical opens with the same appropriately spirited overture the stage show had, courtesy of brilliant composer Andrew Lloyd Webber. Naturally Eliot’s book provided all the necessary lyrics for Webber to put music to.

Although these talented tabbies dominate, we do catch a glimpse of human activity when one female kitten named Victoria(Francesca Hayward) is callously tossed into a London street inside an ordinary paper lunch bag. Upon freeing herself, she’s almost immediately surrounded by curious fellow felines.

These include the alley inhabiting Jellicle Cats Mr. Mistoffolees and Munkostrap, seemingly indecisive either to welcome or reject this new comer arriving so abruptly. Nevertheless, Munkostrap offers a friendly “paw” and invites the newest addition to their band to the annual Jellicle Ball where cats compete for the prestigious honor of being selected for the heaviside layer, to be “born again” into another Jellicle life.

Old Deuteronomy, rendered by the always majestic Dame Judi Dench ( former “M”) is saddled with the difficult task of bestowing the coveted kudos to only one special feline. She’s not exactly the greatest vocalist amongst the others, but she manages. You may even ignore this shortcoming when you see how revered her character is.

Every prime feline gets their chance to “audition” in their bid for rebirth, with a song flaunting their individual personalities. Despite some minor, understandable nuances just for the sake of being different from the stage production, our many and varied entourage of wily fur balls, including the magical Mr. Mistoffolees (Laurie Davidson) thieving partners Mungojerrie and Rumpleteaser (Danny Collins and Naoimh Morgan), the playboy like Rum Tum Tugger (Jason Derulo),the rambunctious Bustopher Jones(James Corden),plus The Lord of the Rings’ Ian McKellen as Gus, the Theater Cat, all render their finest performances to convince you, as well as Old Deuteronomy, that they deserve the ultimate prize.

Of all Cats collective jockyeying for position, Mcavity is certainly the fiercest competitor. Maybe too fierce. Hobbs and Shaw’s Idris Elba packs a relentless punch toward his fellow felines trying everything (good or bad) to be the chosen one, even enlisting a boost from Taylor Swift’s Bombalurina offering up a rousing rendition of his theme song. He may be the Napoleon of crime sporting a lions’ share of an ego, but he’s definitely the cat you love to hate.

At the diametrically opposite end of the spectrum is Dreamgirl Jennifer Hudson’s branded Grizabella, whose haggard appearance firmly belies her Cats title as the Glamour Cat. She was the (pun intended) “cat’s meow” at one time. But now she’s rejected by all as if having the Corona virus.

Tom Hooper, who also helmed the silver screen adaptation of Les Miserables, and Tony award winner Andy Blankenbuehler who choreographed Cats’ stage revival were an ideal combo for the film version Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Broadway hit. In flashy collaboration with cinematographer Christopher Ross, and Hooper’s abiding production designer Eve Stewart, Cats transports you to another dimension in which you may never think of our feline friends the same way after you leave.