The extraordinary thing about Andrew Lloyd Webber's joyous and indomitable vaudeville is that it still looks the same, still hasn't dated and, as a brilliantly orchestrated dance piece, seems as sensationally dynamic, innovative and surprising as anything you might see at Sadler's Wells… There are several performers you simply can't take your cats' eyes off, not least Nicole Scherzinger's Grizabella, the slowed down, fading glamour cat who is haunting the convocation with her "Memory"… She is as good a Grizabella as I've seen, and I've seen Elaine Paige and Betty Buckley for starters… Rum Tum Tugger's item has been ingeniously elaborated into a rap rhythm show-off number by Antoine Murray-Straughan, but then he's topped by Joseph Poulton taking off as a technically adroit and magical Mr Mistoffelees.
I raved about Cats when I first reviewed it in 1981. Seeing it revived by the original creative team, I still admire its energy, verve and choreographic vigour. But if, as Trevor Nunn argues, it was a revolutionary musical, I begin to feel it is high time for some form of counter-reformation. The first thing to say about this revival is that it rethinks what you can do at the London Palladium. John Napier’s junkyard set, with its rusting cars, worn-out tyres and urban detritus, spills out from the stage to embrace the boxes and front stalls… The star role is still the faded glamourpuss, Grizabella… even though Nicole Scherzinger tends to substitute lung-power for plaintiveness, she exudes the right air of solitude and had the audience cheering her high notes… It is all performed with great commitment, the dancing is excellent and Nunn’s direction gives a diffuse show a carnivalesque unity. But, while Cats is enjoyable in itself, I’m not convinced it led musicals in the right direction.
It's an inspired decision to cast Nicole Scherzinger as sad yet glamorous drop-out Grizabella in this revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s hit musical. The role isn’t huge, but the former Pussycat Doll has feline grace and a voice that’s impressively resonant… Director Trevor Nunn doesn’t have a revolving stage at his disposal, as he did when the show was at the New London Theatre, but even if the presentation feels less immersive John Napier’s set still resembles a vast rubbish tip… Gillian Lynne’s choreography is winningly effervescent. And though there’s strength throughout the cast, Joseph Poulton dazzles as Magical Mr Mistoffelees while Benjamin Yates and Dawn Williams bring real zest to Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer. Less successful is the attempt to update the show by making the Rum Tum Tugger (Antoine Murray-Straughan) a rapper. There’s nothing cutting edge about this – it’s merely tedious, despite Murray-Straughan’s energy.
It has to be said that Scherzinger doesn't make many concessions to appearing past-it. She's a drop-dead stunning presence with her flawless face, her thigh-length stiletto-heeled boots, long-back gloves and a chic grey tattered coat that wouldn't look out of place on a cat-walk – all of which feels a bit at odds with the plaintive beseeching gestures of this now despised loner… Trevor Nunn's youthful cast certainly do their utmost to rejuvenate the material, performing the cartwheels, flips, balletic leaps and aerial spins of Gillian Lynne's demanding choreography with terrific freshness and high-definition zest. There's some tactical updating too. Rum Tum Tugger, once a Jagger-esque bad boy, has been reimagined as a slim little rapping dude, whose flashy cool-cat bravado and break-dancing exhibitionism are conveyed with devilish charm and wit by Antoine Murray-Straughan.
The show's greatest moments come close to pure sensation. Brilliantly though Trevor Nunn directs, the night belongs to Gillian Lynne, his associate director and choreographer, as much as it does to anyone. (Sadly Lynne, now 88, has injured her ribs in ten places and missed the opening show.)… The extended tap-dance routine for The Old Gumbie Cat, the music-hall knockabout on Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer (stunning work by Benjamin Yates and Dawn Williams), Joseph Poulton’s dancing in Mr Mistoffelees, the whole company’s chorus-line work on The Jellicle Ball… this is musical theatre verging on dance theatre. When it clicks, resistance is futile.
Former X Factor judge Scherzinger, equally well known as Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton’s Penelope Pitstop, plays Grizabella the Glamour Cat in a top-whisker revival of Lord Lloyd-Webber’s 33-year-old musical. How is she? Almost purr-fect!… In X Factor jargon, Miss Scherzinger nailed it, her low voice almost gasping with emotion, harmonising briefly with another singer before seizing back her solo and clinching it with lusty, self-discovering power… Bustopher is played by Paul F Monaghan, one of several strong performances: Nicholas Pound's Old Deuteronomy (is that a costume or a car rug?), Ross Finnie's Ronnie-Corbettish Skimbleshanks and an ace dance turn from Joseph Poulton's Mistoffelees… You could argue that the story is just a series of character sketches. But once you fall into the zone you become hypnotised by these kittenish shapes, by a penumbral fantasy world and by the feline charms of mouser Scherzinger.