jump to navigation

CATS is weird, but CATS is CATS, and the dancing is outstanding. And I didn’t hate it. December 20, 2019

Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, Movies, musical theater, Musicals, Uncategorized.
Tags:
trackback

It’s very rare that I write a review that totally seems to contradict the mainstream movie critics, but this review of CATS is one of them.

Not that it’s a good movie — but it’s a very solid adaptation/interpretation of the stage musical. If you do not love musical theater, then for God’s sake stay away from this Andrew Lloyd Webber atrocity. But if you do love musical theater, and especially if you love dance, you will find very much to admire in this movie – complete with a sure-fire Oscar nomination for Jennifer Hudson, whose “Memory” is simply stunning.

Let me acknowledge up front that I love the stage musical and saw it many times in its original Broadway run, on the West End (faithfully captured for video and streaming at BroadwayHD), the revival with its many UM Musical Theater grads, and on tour. I might have even performed Mungojerrie at one point along the line (evidence is classified). 

The show has always been problematic – but one thing that was never problematic either then or now was that the musical brought dance back to musical theater – something only rare productions (A Chorus Line, 42nd Street) were doing at the time. Then along came CATS with its popular score, and its weird mix of ballet, tap, jazz, modern Broadway dance, with a touch of British music hall thrown in. It was an instant hit and ran for years.

Let me get this out of the way – Tom Hopper was the absolutely wrong choice to direct this movie, though I suppose it would not have gotten the green light if a name like Hopper had not been attached. His use of closeups when we should be in full stage, and weird sweeps toward the performers rather than away from them is distracting and wrong for this script.

And the CGI is distracting and terrible – though not as terrible as in the original teaser trailers. Still, it’s enough that you want to pull your hair out at times. It might have been less eerie if they had costumed most of the cast, rather than putting CGI fur on their entire bodies. Believe me, Robbie Fairchild and Idris Elba would have still looked like hunks even in costumes. 

Sure there is star power — a lot of it — and each gets featured in their own number. Already mentioned are Jennifer Hudson and Idris Elba, but there are empathic Judi Dench and Ian McKellen, pop-centric but fitting right in Taylor Swift, and funny James Cordon and Rebel Wilson — there’s no trick casting here – they are all good in their stereotypical roles, and there are no Les Miserables type embarrassments in the vocal/acting departments. Cats has never been sublte. Why settle for actors that are subtle?

But where the show explodes is in its dance numbers. Robbie Fairchild and Francesca Hayward are ballet dancers that are a joy to watch – Laurie Davidson is great as Mr Mistoffelees, Steven McRae is outstanding doing his tap number for Skimbleshanks. Danny Collins and Naomhi Morgan are great as Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer. 

The score is also beautifully reorchestrated and lush. It “sounds” Broadway and less tinny than the original West End arrangements.

Andy Blankenbuehler (Hamilton, In the Heights, Bandstand) takes a look at the original choreograpy and expands it with strong hiphop and ballet woven into its dance tapestry. It just works. 

I suggest we all take a step back and forget about the weird and unnecessary CGI fur and sets, and remember that this is a damn musical about people playing CATS for two hours. Seriously, What do you expect? But let’s not take a step back from something Hopper has well-continued here from the original…you do not forget throughout that these are people doing incredible work – vocally, and particularly in dance. And that is the way this show was designed. You are not supposed to think, for an instant, that these are real cats. And that is where the CGI goes wrong and errs on the “real cats” look. Its a mark of people not believing in their material. 

Hey, really, I would much rather rewatch the stage production on BroadwayHD any day. But I am not going to lambast this work for something some critics are making out to be a disaster.

It is far from a disaster. It’s CATS. Now and forever. (Ugh). 

%d bloggers like this: