It’s on! After three weeks of hit-and-miss rarities, ‘Cats’ will be the final full Andrew Lloyd Webber musical to be broadcast on the theatrical titan’s The Shows Must Go On! YouTube channel. It’s an aptly in-your-face way to bow out, and we’re purring with excitement.
The version being screened is a 1998 filmed version of the ever-divisive stage musical, not the critically unacclaimed 2019 movie. And if it leaves you feeling a little… confused?… then you’re in luck: Lloyd Webber himself will be streaming a live commentary and answering questions on a separate YouTube channel throughout the initial stream.
‘Cats’ streams on YouTube today, Friday May 15, from 7pm BST (2pm EDT, 4am AEST). Viewers have 48 hours to watch the show – except in the UK, where they’ll have only 24 hours.
‘Cats’: what to expect
After leading off with ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’, ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ and ‘The Phantom of the Opera’, The Shows Must Go On! has spent the past three weeks giving us Lloyd Webber B shows as we waited with growing anticipation for ‘Cats’. Now it has arrived.
Is ‘Cats’ good or bad? That’s a question without an answer. ‘Cats’ is beyond good and bad. ‘Cats’ is ‘Cats’. ‘Cats’ is a show about cats who sing light verse by T.S. Eliot in a junkyard. ‘Cats’ is about Andrew Lloyd Webber writing a lot more melodies than he usually does and pulling many keepers right out of his hat. ‘Cats’ is about furred-out and heavily made-up human dancers performing weirdly sexy feline moves. It’s all ridiculous and it’s all kind of magical. If you’ve only seen the instant camp classic that was the 2019 film adaptation, you owe it to yourself to check out this 1998 direct-to-video recording of the 1981 stage version, which doesn’t make a lot more sense but at least doesn’t try to.
There’s a hint of a plot about a group of cats competing to rise into the ionosphere on a giant tyre, but the musical is essentially a revue. It is quirkily based on Eliot’s poetry collection ‘Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats’, an exercise in high silliness that sits at the classy end of an anthropomorphised-cat-comedy genre that includes, at lower stations, I Can Has Cheezburger? and ‘New Yorker’ cartoons of cats on shrinks’ couches. But with major assists from director Trevor Nunn, choreographer Gillian Lynne and designer John Napier – who covered the performers in yak hair and deposited them in an oversize set – Lloyd Webber turned Eliot’s trifles into an international sensation that was, for a time, the longest-running musical in the histories of both the West End and Broadway.
The 1998 film being streamed by The Shows Must Go On! was recorded at London’s Adelphi Theatre in 1998. It stars the West End’s original Grizabella, Elaine Paige, and Broadway’s original Old Deuteronomy, Ken Page; a 90-year-old Sir John Mills plays Gus (the Theatre Cat) and Michael Gruber is the unfortunately named Munkustrap. The show’s opening number, ‘Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats’, will stick in your head for weeks whether you want it to or not – hint: you won’t – but the real gold comes when Paige delivers a soaring version of the show’s takeaway tune, ‘Memory’. There’s a reason this song was a crossover smash. It’s unforgettable.
‘Cats’ will be available on YouTube for 48 hours starting May 15 at 7pm BST (2pm EDT, 4am AEST), except in the UK, where it will be available for 24 hours only. Watch it here:
And here’s our full guide to the best theatre to watch at home.