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Previewed 22 April 1981, opened 11 May 1981, closed 11 May 2002 at the New London Theatre
Enter the magical musical world of Cats. For this unique production the New London Theatre was partially gutted and rebuilt to create 'a gaint playground for cats!' Immediately you enter the auditorium the set is all around you, even right up to the dress circle. The designer, John Napier, has created a complete environmental space for the show, taking us into a world which uses real objects, larger than life, to conjure up a world of fantasy, which at first is slightly disorientating and makes one wonder what is going to happen - and how!
The memory will live forever!
Add to this fantastic setting some of the most energetic and exciting dance ever seen on stage and the wonderful music of Andrew Lloyd Webber - including of course the beautiful 'Memory' - and it is easy to see why Cats has become a universally acclaimed triumph.
Cats the Musical features music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics based on Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot. This production is directed by Trevor Nunn with associate direction and choreography by Gillian Lynne, designs by John Napier and lighting by David Hersey.
Now and Forever!
Most of the poems comprising Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats (1939) have been set to music complete and in their original published form; a few have been subject to a minor revision of tense or pronuon, and eight lines have been added to the 'Song of the Jellicies'. However, some of the lyrics, notably 'The Marching Song of the Pollicle Dogs' and the story of 'Grizabella' were discovered among the unpublished writings of Eliot. The prologue is based on ideas and incorporates lines from another unpublished poem, entitled 'Pollicle Dogs and Jellicle Cats'. 'Memory' includes lines from and is suggested by 'Rhapsody On a Windy Night', and other poems of the Prufrock period. All other words in the show are taken from the Collected Poems.
Judi Dench was originally scheduled to play the role of 'Grizabella' but unfortunately during rehearsals she fell and snapped her Achilies tendon, although she managed to return to rehearsals, she had a further fall and so had to leave the show. With just four days to go before the first public preview on Wednesday 22 April 1981 Andrew Lloyd Webber drafted in Elaine Paige to play the role. She began intensive rehearsals on Sunday under Trevor Nunn when she said: "It's a lovely part and I'm very excited about being back in a new British musical. I will develop the character as we play the previews but I believe as soon as an audience is out there watching, you have to deliver for them...I hope I can get it together in time. I have a lot of work to do. But I am enjoying it and I feel sorry for Judi that she could not continue. I don't have a cat but I've been watching all the cats in my street and picking up tips from them about how to move. They have so many idiosyncrasies about the way they stretch or even sit." Andrew Lloyd Webber said: "We think it's remarkable of Elaine to take over the role at such short notice... Obviously Elaine can't do everything Judi Dench was going to do by curtain-up. That would be a physical impossibility. But the show is an ensemble piece and Elaine is already bringing her own very special quality to it. She has always been incredibly professional when it comes to the crunch."
Cats opened at the New London Theatre on 11 May 1981 with a cast that included Elaine Paige, Brian Blessed, Paul Nicholas, Wayne Sleep, Sarah Brightman and Bonnie Langford. The show became London's longest-running musical on 12 May 1989 when it played its 3,358th performance at the New London Theatre beating the record of 3,357 performances held by Jesus Christ Superstar. On 29 January 1996, Cats in London became the longest running musical ever to play in the West End or on Broadway, when the show at the New London Theatre overtook the record of 6,137 performances held by the Broadway production of A Chorus Line. Cats finally closed on Saturday 11 May 2002 after it's 8,949th performance.
The highlight of the last performance on 11 May 2002 was a specially choreographed mass finale at the end when some 150 former cast members join the current cast on stage - to enable former cast members who where performing in other West End shows the same evening to join the finale, the final performance started 45 minutes later than normal as 8.30pm. To allow more fans to see the show live than could be accommodated in the New London Theatre, the final show was broadcast via a live video relay to a giant screen in the nearby Piazza in Covent Garden.
"London's newest musical is a hymn to the disturbing, disconcerting, disreputable, but not the discordant nature of cats. It is also a feast of unbelievably sinuous, writhing, elastic dancing, by a company who give the impression that they haven't a bone or a protesting sinew in their feline bodies... The theatre's round stage provides a brilliantly-utilised setting - a circular junkyard crammed with old tyres, corrugated iron, abandoned cars, through which the cat-dancers weave and slide... It would be hard to choose the most memorable moment but it will for most people be Elaine Paige, as the tired, tawdry glamour cat, Grizabella, singing 'Memory'... At the end when the cats finally vanish, we all go home. But as with Wonderland's famous Cheshire Cat, the smile lingers on." The Daily Express
"Andrew Lloyd Webber's dance musical based on TS Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Pratical Cats had a truimphant opening. The first thrill on Monday night was to discover Sean Kenny's revolutionary theatre (it opened in 1973) at last realising its potential... John Napier's stunning costumes are decorated body tights and rehearsal leggings. The tribe has assembled for the annual Jellicle ball, presided over by the fabled elder, Old Deuteronomy. The celebration of each others' characteristics, joyously undertaken, steam-rollers any danger of the scenario degenerating into a routine, unconnected recital of the poems... If the director, Trevor Nunn, injects warmth and detail of characterisation into the evening, the real plaudits must be reserved for his choreographer, Gillian Lynne. For years it has seemed impossible that the British could produce their own original dance musical. But here it is, with a company of outstanding dancers and singers fully at home in every style, from tap to ballet, from Bob Fosse-style shimmying to corporate cakewalk, from acrobatic, jazz routines to explosive narrative invention... Lloyd Webber's score is thoughtfully accommodating towards Eliot's rhythms, continuously inventive and a concerted effort to break with his own output to date. FOr him, as for the British musical, this is a refreshing departure." The Financial Times
"Cats at the New London is an exhilarating piece of total theatre... the particular triumph of Cats as that it never simply becomes a series of isolated feline spectaculars. For a start John Napier has desgned a wonderful environmental rubbish-dump, set made up of huge tyres, rusting cars, dust-bin lids and old bicycles from whch the cats playfully emerge. Even more crucially, director Trevor Nunn and composer Andrew Lloyd Webber have raided Eliot's Collected Poems and some unpublished work to give the show a strong framework... What is particularly heartening is the way the poems are deftly integrated... Gillian Lynne as choreographer and associate director has conceived some brilliant moments... the show is packed wth dance but it never kills the language or overpowers the strong individual characterisations... Many hands have made Cats work. But in the end one comes back to Lloyd Webber's remarkable ability to find tunes that fit each specific feline. And to Trevor Nunn's dazzling staging." The Guardian
Cats in London at the New London Theatre previewed from 22 April 1981, opened on 11 May 1981 and closed on 11 May 2002.