You like musical theatre or you don’t. You like screen musicals or you don’t. You like Andrew Llyod-Webber or you don’t. But the uncanny valley of these weirdly sexed-up felines with CGI fur and human faces… that’s one kink too many.
Eliot’s Book of Practical Cats was ersatz English whismy, and as the source for a two hour musical, the material’s decidedly flimsy. Okay, I won’t do the whole review in verse.
Strung together by the notion that once a year the Jellicles (street cats) gather for one of them to be chosen for a mystical rebirth into the new life of their choice, the musical becomes a parade of star turns as each cat tells its tragi-comic tale in hope of being the Chosen One.
So as Rebel Wilson and James Corden do embarassingly awful comic turns, all the cats curry favour with old stagers Ian McKellan and Judy Dench (looking more like the Cowardly Lion from Oz), except for Idris Elba’s villainous Macavity, attempting to nobble the competition. There’s the wholly disturbing scene of Ray Winstone as a river barge cat attempting to sing, which nobody needs to see.
And Jennifer Husdon gets to warble her heart out for show-stopper Memories to very little effect.
It’s left to the one bright light, ballerina Francesca Hayward to demonstrate some dance skills that are a cut above the accomplished, but uncomfortable, wriggling and writhing of the over-sexed cat chorus.
With Eliot’s poems awkwardly set to the essentially 70’s musical score, defying any updates to the 21st century, Taylor Swift’s new extra song stands out as a modern, non-Lloyd-Webber number that is way better than anything else in the show, but still too little too late.
Translating one of the longest-running shows in West End and Broadway history from stage to screen, Oscar-winning director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech, Les Misérables, The Danish Girl) throws no end of technology at the thing: CGI fur, twitchy ears and swishy tails. In the process, the production forgets that Cats was never very good, but it was a fun and funny, live song and dance production, that never pretended these were real cats.
Hooper’s movie version falls into a strange netherworld by trying too hard and failing miserably, giving the audience a trippy freak show that might be a lot better seen on strong medication. RC
Director: Tom Hooper
Writers: Lee Hall, Tom Hooper
Genre: Musical (but only just)
Running time: 102 minutes
Cast: Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, Jennifer Hudson, Idris Elba, Taylor Swift, Francesca Hayward, James Corden, Jason Derulo, Rebel Wilson, Ray Winstone, Laurent Bourgeois, Larry Bourgeois, Laurie Davidson, Robert Fairchild, Mette Towley, Melissa Madden-Gray, Steven McRae