Musical review: Not enough meat in the high-energy, visually spectacular Cats

As one of the longest-running Broadway musicals, Cats has lived many lives since it was first performed more than three decades ago.

But while it is effective as a song-and-dance spectacular with an imaginative set and amazing make-up, costumes and choreography, it failed to connect with me the way many other musicals have.

Cats was last performed here in 2009 and is back for a four-week run at MasterCard Theatres at Marina Bay Sands.

Tuesday's gala night saw a 53-strong cast and crew from Britain, including a live band, performing English composer Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical score, which ranges from peppy toe-tapping numbers such as Jellicle Songs For Jellicle Cats to the mournful ballad which became a 1981 pop hit, Memory.

Based on T.S. Eliot's collection of poems Old Possum's Book Of Practical Cats (1939), the musical revolves around a group of felines gathered at a rubbish dump - that comes complete with oversized tennis racquets, tyres and refrigerators - for their annual Jellicle Ball.

The cats - outfitted in colourful wigs and sleek unitards - tell the stories of their lives. The tales are engaging, but some are better executed than others.

From Act 1, characters to look out for include the very boisterous and libidinous tomcat Rum Tum Tugger (played by Earl Gregory), whose hip-shaking moves left females - onstage and in the audience - purring with delight.

Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer (played by Brent Osborne and Dominique Hamilton respectively), a pair of cat burglars who love wreaking havoc, also thrill with their acrobatic performances.

But the first half of this three-hour-long musical is marred by weak moments such as an amateur tap dance sequence between the indolent fat cat Jennyanydots and a bunch of strange-looking mice and cockroaches, as well as a Jellicle ball dance routine towards the end that looks too much like the opening sequence and goes on for way too long.

The truth is that there is no gripping storyline to this musical and neither is there character development.

Unlike more recent hit musicals Matilda and Wicked, whose layered characters and emotive songs tug at heartstrings, Cats is just a celebration of cats - what you know them to be like and what they get up to. Perhaps as a result of this, there is little depth to the characters.

Perhaps the only moving part of the musical is when Grizabella (Erin Cornell), a faded glamourpuss, sings Memory. The song is poignant, but alas, too little is known of the character for me to feel deeply for her plight.

I appreciated that the cats tried to play with the audience, breaking down the barriers between audience and stage. They sprang up on empty seats, stared down at the humans and prowled up and down the aisles.

Act 2 was buoyed by visually captivating sequences and strong performances by Angela Kilian as narrating cat Jellylorum and the sensual Griddlebone, Christopher Favaloro as magician cat Mr Mistoffelees and Jarryd Nurden as the smart railway cat Skimbleshanks.

Their energetic moves onstage were complemented by a good use of set, props and special effects.

During Skimbleshanks' performance, for example, a locomotive train is formed out of objects in the rubbish dump, complete with smoke and lighting.

Overall, the cast executed Jo-Anne Robinson's choreography faultlessly, prancing and leaping about the set with abandon, and aptly portraying the playfulness and skittishness of felines.

But I wish I could have identified more with them. Perhaps what is needed is updated dialogue and song lyrics that strike a deeper chord, so that we can look upon these cats and ponder a little more about who we are and the lives we have led.

brynasim@sph.com.sg

Book It

Cats International Tour

Where: MasterCard Theatres, Marina Bay Sands

When: Till Feb 1, performances from Tuesday to Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm and 8pm, and Sunday at 1pm and 6pm

Admission: Tickets from $65 to $195 from www.BASEentertainmentasia.com, www.MarinaBaySands.com/Ticketing or www.sistic.com.sg. Call 6688-8826.