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To commemorate the long stage run of Andrew Lloyd Webber's massive stage hit Cats, this production is a direct to video 'definitive presentation' of the show, directed by the man who directed the Lords of the Dance video. As such, it's probably an essential treasure to Webber fans. To Savant, it's a curiosity that sends me straight back to Stephen Sondheim for modern musical excellence. Savant loves musicals, and like everyone else, sees the charm in Webber's best songs, of which, after Jesus Christ Superstar, there seems to be one per show. So this will be short but sweet - Savant sees no benefit to anyone in overstating his low opinion of Webber in general, or to make this innocuous and glitzy show suffer unnecessary criticism. The people who want to see Cats are obviously going to love this disc. They probably already have it.
The story is simply a plotless introduction, cat by cat, of a junkyard full of felines with different personalities and backgrounds. All have colorful and interesting T.S. Eliot names. Closed captioning is essential to follow the poetry that forms the backbone of the songs - although clearly recorded and sung, there's still the English accents to cut through. As a special guest star, the aged John Mills does a nice bit as a lonely old cat that is a delight to watch.
To Savant, the show came across as a Las Vegas-style pageant extravaganza, showing off mostly the elaborate costuming and makeup of the cats (which is undeniably impressive) and the frenetic dancing. Only a few times did I think of cats; all the characters were really show-biz types - the aging star, etc. Without a plot or real interaction between them, the involvment was limited to admiring the stunning production values. Naturally, the main song "Memory", a bonafide showstopper, comes across fine. Some of the choreography (and a lot of the character direction) has something to do with cats and catlike motions, but most of it is a flurry of movement that mostly expresses the great energy of the dancers. There's not much finesse - as with one macho cat's constant pelvic thrusts, which come across more as unimaginative bad taste, than high camp.
A friend of Savant, who was once a Broadway dancer, doesn't have many kind words for Cats either. He told me that in his opinion the show was responsible for more near-paralytic injuries to its dancers than any dance show of its kind. The main physical problem, he said, is that the show requires the dancers to perform on a raked stage, sloped toward the pit. That, combined with the choreography, was a recipe for a lifetime of physical therapy, which many of its dancers still undergo. Apparently performing in Cats earned dancers a minimum wage, for all but the Grizabella character. ... Whew ... and I thought Broadway performers were all pampered prima donnas.
Universal's DVD is certainly a good-looker, but lamentably not 16:9 enhanced. Too bad, as the added lateral space would have given director Mallet many more visual possibilities. Expecting a hyped-up show with too many cuts fracturing the choreography into little pieces, Savant was pleasantly surprised to see the action well-presented straight and strong, without much cinematic flash. Dancing highlights are allowed to play and the performances look intact.
There's a glitzy but serviceable docu on the disc that efficiently hypes the production while telling just enough about it to assure you that its success means that everyone associated with it is a genius. It plays like something on Entertainment Tonight, with lots of fast cutting flash.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Cats Commemorative Edition rates:
Other Musically - oriented Savant articles:
Savant Review: ANNIE GET YOUR GUN ...
Jump Cut 2: SINGIN'IN THE RAIN ...
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