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Cats - the ultimate edition

Cats - the ultimate edition

2002, 2 DVD,

Cats is a pop-cultural phenomenon that has been performed on stage for more than 50 million patrons in 26 countries for almost 18 years, resulting in more than two billion dollars in ticket sales. Now that Cats has finally made it to the small screen, attention must be paid not just by fans of this critic-proof show, but also by those entertainment mavens who have somehow avoided it until now.

This video version has been restaged but, alas, not really reconceived for its new medium. Most of the cast--assembled from London, Amsterdam and New York productions--are competent. Ken Page as Old Deuteronomy, Jacob Brent as Mr Mistoffelees and Elaine Paige--the original London Grizabella, the Glamour Cat well past her prime--are a great deal more than that. Paige has toned down her theatrical belting of her big number, "Memory", and allowed the faded ruin of her character's soul to prevail in close-up. For all the covers of her signature song, Paige's version remains definitive. The video is, by definition, more intimate, which is not always a good thing: costumes are even more Halloweeny in garish close-up, the cats less cuddly without that all-important interaction, the stage's appropriately midnight lighting transmuted to a Las Vegas neon. And the chorus of cats in production numbers is even clunkier and more amorphous in two- and three-shots.

The one complete newcomer to the cast is the 90-year-old icon among English actors, John Mills, a delight as Gus the Theatrical Cat. Sir John and his character show the youngsters how it's done in close-up, largely behind the eyes, abetted by a heart-tugging delivery of his one song. Yet virtually all of the songs are lip-synched, further robbing the video Cats of its onstage spontaneity. It's clearer than ever that Lloyd Webber's music is mostly twaddle, with the important exception of "Memory", which instantly and rightly became one of the genuine theatre standards not dependent on context, in the vein of Stephen Sondheim's "Send in the Clowns". On the plus side, most of the characters and lyrics, from TS Eliot's 14-poem Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, are far better defined and understood from the video version. --


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