In full disclosure, I have never seen Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cats” the musical. It seems that it has been floating around for nearly as long as I have been alive, but I’ve never made it a point to make it to the theater to catch it.
Then Tom Hooper comes along, to my delight, and makes a sexual orgy fantasy out of the story, catnip included.
No, I’m not mad that he did. The lights, the dirty glam all play into the milky atmosphere in which the tribe decide who will ascend that particular evening. I was not at all put off by the frivolity with which the actors pranced their way throughout the seedy streets, trying to one up another in order to gain the favor of Old Deuteronomy. Hooper changed the gender of this role, from what I understand. Judi Dench commands the role with grace as she must decide who is worthy.
The flow of the film is dictated by the musical numbers and while it was easy to get lost amongst the shuffle, newcomer Francesca Hayward as Victoria, Laurie Davidson as Mr. Mistoffelees, Jason Derulo as Rum Tum Tugger, Rebel Wilson as Jennyanydots (especially when she unzips her outer coat), James Cordon as Bustopher (he’s a hoot when trying to get the rest of the tribe to balance out his gregarious frame to the trash can for a meal) and Jennifer Hudson as Grizabella all stood out amongst the lights and the crowds of cats.
Once you sort through who’s who, you can start to peel back the layers of the story and that’s when the cast really starts to shine, especially Ian McKellen as Gus the Theatre Cat. He plays the role in a subtle way owing to the character, but with enough energy that you feel his presence on the screen. Judi Dench stood out particularly because I thought she lent a gravitas toward her role. She’s a natural leader and Hooper let her run with it in a very positive way.
Idris Elba had a very menacing presence as Macavity, the most domineering of all the cats as he desires to be the chosen one. We know from all his scandals that he isn’t worthy and yet, he keeps on trying until the end. Elba has played similar roles. No, he isn’t being typecatted just yet (I jest in some ways), but he has definitely played this type of role previously. To be fair, that’s partially the point – that an every cat, even a CGI cat can still try to win the day, but we know it won’t be so. Macavity isn’t worthy.
That’s at the heart of this ooey gooey cat-tastrophy: we are mere observers of a ritual, religious in nature, of who is deemed the most worthy for a new life.
As the movie rolled on, I instantly thought of the Book of Genesis. No, I’m not going spiritual on you. Webber’s musical does that for us already through the characters’ names.
How willing you are to accept this in between the digital strands of hair that adorn the unitards worn by the cast, is determined by how our life experiences form our impressions of art and this is a part of my background that allowed me to experience the story’s intricacies to their fullest.
“Cats” is also about perspective; especially of the items around the cats remind us of just how small each of us is, and how much we need each other.
In this life and in the next.
A strong cast and an even stronger musical performance from Jennifer Hudson make “Cats” a worthy journey.