Friday, 19 July 2019

Why I Fear Cats the Movie

I am going to state a very unpopular Broadway opinion.

I didn't like Cats. 

There. I said it.

And as much as I really didn't enjoy it, The Husband absolutely HATED it. He was thoroughly bored. When it finally premiered here in Toronto thirty-five years ago, he was stuck in a slightly obstructed seat that caused him to miss the entirety of stage left. I don't think a better seat would have mattered, though. The abstract concept of bringing T.S. Eliot's marginal Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats to life in an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical was just a bit beyond his still developing twenty-something musical theatre mind. The poetry was ridiculous enough (and it is ridiculous. Everybody who thinks that they like this show should read it.) but putting it to music with ballet? Well, that was sufficient for him to declare, and still maintain, that it was one of his worst evenings ever in a theatre.

I didn't hate it. It really only has one great song and I was wholly impressed by it from a technical standpoint. The make-up, the sets, the movement, and oh that choreography. It was, and still remains, a musical that is fully dependent on an illusion created in a theatre. The distance the audience has from the performers allows for the makeup, costumes, and movement to do their work of conveying an assemblage of cats jumping and leaping all over the stage. When I saw the live television version that was recorded from London in the late eighties, I was disappointed at being able to see the brushstrokes on the performers' faces, the tails held on by chicken wire, and the cheesy looking catsuits. The illusion was lost.

There is a reason that it has taken almost forty years to make a film version of Cats. Cats is basically an abstract dance piece. The cats onstage are not meant to be taken literally. It is a collection of short stories about the names and personalities of a group of felines. There isn't really a storyline that ties them all together. The cats themselves are the story. The idea that a filmmaker could come up with a lucid concept to somehow recreate the magic of the stage on film has always seemed to be illusory. It reminds me of when War Horse was filmed. The amazing puppetry of the horse onstage was lost to the reality of an actual equine. The film was lacking the emotional heft of the stage play that was brought on by the illusion, tricks of the eye, and movement of the "horse" on stage.

And that brings me to the trailer of the upcoming movie version of Cats that was released yesterday. It is available for your viewing pleasure (?) at the bottom of this post. It is disturbing at best and horrific at worst. The felines look like bad Halloween costumes and the CGI of the sets is simply awful. The casting is truly suspect with Jason Derulo the only likely dancer in the group. I mean, c'mon. Taylor Swift mocks her dancing abilities in her own songs. Putting her into a choreographic masterpiece like Cats is like putting me in a swim race against Michael Phelps.

Hollywood has had a terrible time of it lately in adapting Broadway and that is a shame. Hairspray, Mamma Mia, and Les Miz have all suffered from overproduction and bad casting choices. I confess that I hold out very little hope for Cats but the crazy thing is, that I am such an addict of musicals that I will probably shell out the cash for a ticket. That doesn't mean that I should nor should they. Here's hoping they don't mess up In the Heights.

Watch and decide for yourself.


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