As it often stands with great works of art, sometimes rewards await those who return to the source material. For lovers (and haters) of the divisive musical “Cats,” a rare opportunity lurks on the horizon to do just that.
On May 15, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Shows Must Go On” continues with the direct-to-video musical film “Cats.” The livestream event, set to kick off at 2 p.m., will feature the 1998 presentation of the acclaimed production, starring Elaine Paige — West End’s original Grizabella (known for the soothing yowl of a song, “Memory.”) The film will be available to watch on-demand via the series’ YouTube channel for 48 hours after the debut.
Directed by David Mallet and choreographed by Gillian Lynne, the recreation of the 1981 stage musical also stars John Mills, Susan Jane Tanner (West End’s Jellylorum) and Ken Page, who debuted the role of Old Deuteronomy on Broadway in 1982.
The fantasy of the “Cats” stage production relies less on tricks (you won’t find nary a hair created with “digital fur technology”) and more on extravagance, excess and slinky choreography. Based on “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” by T.S. Eliot, the plot proceeds through a rollcall of introductions, doling out the names and histories of the various cats that prowl the stage in a march toward making the “Jellicle choice,” determining which cat will rise to the “Heaviside Layer,” otherwise known as cat heaven.
When the production arrived on Broadway in 1982, it nabbed seven Tony Awards, including the prestigious designation as Best Musical and Original Score. Much to the vexation of some naysayers, “Cats” went on to be one of the longest-running shows on Broadway, totaling in at 7,485 performances. At its highest gross selling point, the musical raked in $727,685 in a week and made $342,207,841 in its initial run (with an additional $65,624,071 coming in during the 2016-2017 revival).
The film is housed within the ongoing presentation “The Shows Must Go On,” announced by Webber in April. The series, which debuted April 3, features a new production each Friday. The program kicked off with the West End adaptation of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and most recently screened “By Jeeves.” Though the stream is free, the organizers encourage viewers to donate to The Actors Fund to benefit those in the theater industry affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.