This pop-cultural phenomenon has been performed on stage for more than 50 million patrons in 26 countries for almost 18 years, churning more than $2 billion in ticket sales. Now that Cats
has finally made it to the small screen, attention must be paid not just by fans of this critic-proof show, but also by those entertainment mavens who have somehow avoided Cats
until now. The video version has been restaged but, alas, not really reconceived for its new medium.
The video cast, assembled from London, Amsterdam, and New York productions, is competent. Ken Page as Old Deuteronomy, Jacob Brent as Mr. Mistoffelees, and Elaine Paige--the original London Grizabella, the Glamour Cat well past her prime--are a great deal more than that. Paige has toned down her theatrical belting of her big number, "Memory," and allowed the faded ruin of her character's soul to prevail in close-up. For all the "covers" of her signature song, Paige's version remains definitive. The video is, by definition, more intimate, not always a good thing: costumes are even more Halloweeny in garish close-up, the cats less cuddly without that all-important interaction, the stage's appropriately midnight lighting transmuted to a Las Vegas neon. And the chorus of cats in production numbers is even clunkier and more amorphous in two- and three-shots.
The one complete newcomer to the cast is the 90-year-old icon among English actors John Mills, a delight as Gus the Theatrical Cat. Sir John and his character show the youngsters how it's done in close-up, largely behind the eyes, abetted by a heart-tugging delivery of his one song. Yet virtually all of the songs are lip-synched, further robbing the video Cats
of its onstage seeming spontaneity. It's clearer than ever that Lloyd Webber's music is mostly twaddle, with the important exception of "Memory," which instantly and rightly became one of the genuine theater standards not dependent on context, in the vein of Stephen Sondheim's "Send in the Clowns." On the plus side, most of the Cats
characters and lyrics, from T.S. Eliot's 14-poem Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats
, are far better defined and understood from the video version. --Robert Windeler