Review: Cats (The Really Useful Group / Capitol Theatre)

catsVenue: Capitol Theatre (Sydney NSW), from Oct 30 – Nov 29, 2015
Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics: T.S. Eliot, Trevor Nunn, Richard Stilgoe
Book: T.S. Eliot
Director: Trevor Nunn
Resident Director: Stephen Morgante
Cast: Daniel Assetta, Amy Berrisford, Madeline Cain, Jade Hui-Wen Coutts, Christopher Favaloro, Keanu Gonzalez, Delta Goodrem, Dominique Hamilton, Ross Hannaford, Ashleigh Hauschild, Sam Hooper, Thomas Johannson, Emily Keane, Sarah Kate Landy, Bree Langridge, Tobias Madden, Matt McFarlane, Holly Meegan, Samantha Morley, Brent Osborne, Josh Piterman, Taylor Scanlan, Stephanie Silcock, Jason Wasley, Patrick Whitbread

Theatre review
Cats first appeared in London in 1981, and remains one of the world’s longest running musicals. This Australian tour is based on last year’s West End revival by its original team, with minor updates that preserve its familiar charm, while taking the show into the twenty-first century. Cats has a distinct quietness that sets it apart from the bold and brash shows of today, where humour tends to be obvious and songs are unsubtle. We are transported back to the theatrical age of Bob Fosse and Alvin Ailey, rediscovering that lost sophistication in sound and movement.

The emphasis on dance is its most glorious feature, and this energetic Australian cast executes all the show’s feline frolic with impressive athleticism, discipline, accuracy and flair. Christopher Favaloro’s turn as Mr. Mistoffelees is delightfully memorable, exceeding expectations by delivering technical excellence along with a superbly effervescent characterisation of the magical cat.

It is an exceptionally well rehearsed cast, and although vocal abilities can vary quite starkly depending on the level of dance required in roles, each performer is accomplished in their own right. Matt McFarlane as Munkustrap, the narrator and second-in-command of the Jellicle tribe, is the strongest all-rounder of the production, with a voice and physicality that has the necessary power to direct our attention at will, and a sex appeal that seems to transcend boundaries of species. The mainstream hit song “Memory” is a significant motif in the show, sung by Delta Goodrem, whose indisputable commitment to her role of Grizabella, complete with suitably raspy tones, almost delivers the goods. Goodrem’s portrayal of age and faded glory is not quite up to scratch, and her trouble with the lower registers of her song are clearly audible in spite of the pronounced reverb effect appearing quite abruptly. Nonetheless, her louder belting sections are crowd pleasing, and help make the production an unforgettable musical theatre debut for the pop star.

Frivolity will always be big business in entertainment. Masses go to musicals to forget their troubles, and for a short time, be transported and filled with wonderment. Cats is entirely fantasy, but its approach is dignified and at times, aloof. Some people will prefer dogs, but art must never aim to please everyone.