Cats was one of the most successful musicals in Broadway history running more than 7,000 performances over an 18-years. So, it only suffices to say that it would eventually hit the big screen like so many others over the decades like Grease, Chicago, Dreamgirls to name a few. Would T.S. Elliot be proud or would he want to give his beloved classic some catnip?
Based on Elliot’s 1939 poetry collection ‘Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats,’ this classic hit is easily one of the most divisive musicals to ever grace Broadway or the West End. People are either head over heels in love or viscerally hate it. As for me, I’m somewhere in the middle.
I’m a dog person by nature, so cats aren’t really my jam, but I’m always down for a good musical film. What I despise is folks forget the performers and reasons the musicals were blockbusters in the first place. Time after time, the Broadway community is overlooked and these films are laden with whoever the biggest stars are of the period (ie, Grease, Chicago, Guys and Dolls, Dreamgirls, etc…). Sometimes it’s an improvement and sometimes it’s a hinderance. In this case, it’s a little of both. You have many actors with no singing experience who are cleverly speaking their lines to music and the ones who can actually blow either hit the mark or miss it within an inch of their lives.
The highlight performances easily go to Sir Ian McClellan (Gus The Theatre Cat) and Taylor Swift (Bombularina). Random right??!! Sir Ian could give a master class on how to effectively talk sing as he does it with class, elegance and fervor. Swift encompasses every talent she possesses giving me Moulin Rouge ala CATS. What should have been a highlight and was the anticipation of Jennifer Hudson as Grizablella the Glamour Cat. What worked for her in spades acting wise in Dreamgirls seems to undermine her as the older cat seeking redemption with another life. I adore Hudson and this is by no means meant to be snarky or shady…simply honest. For me, this wasn’t the best character fit for her this time around and her interpretation of the classic. ‘Memory’ doesn’t seem to hit it’s stride until she gets to those money notes. Until that moment, she seems to struggle a bit. Having said all of that, every time I have seen her perform this song live it’s been stupendous, so I’m not sure why in the film she sounds kinda weird and pitchy. James Corden is entertainingly joyous as Bustopher Jones has screen time that is way too short.
Not a fan of talk singing, I have to recant for two reasons McClellan (as previously mentioned) and Dame Judi Dench as Old Deuteronomy. She is stellar and makes any character she inhabits believable. I thought the digitally enhanced kitty costumes would bother me, but they were actually done quite tastefully. Broadway Veteran Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography is fantastic and the production design is spectacular.
For those who are fans of the musical, T.S. Elliot’s poetry and felines in general, you will get your entire life from this version. But let the jury make the final decision when CATS slinks into theaters via Universal Pictures on December 20th.