So, the official 'press launch' for Cats' West End return happened yesterday and tickets for the twelve-week run (from December 6th 2014 to February 28th 2015) finally went onsale amidst a not-insignificant amount of hype at the London Palladium, with Andrew Lloyd Webber, Gillian Lynne and Trevor Nunn all coming together to answer questions for the press, whilst the utterly delightful and talented UK & Europe Tour Cast assembled to perform a few numbers from the show for the gathered journalists and to scamper through the crowds. And the very first thing I would like to say about the whole thing is that I don't ever want to dampen the excitement and enthusiasm of that cast for what they were a part of yesterday; they were excellent, as they always are, and it is wonderful for them to have been involved in such a prestigious event, though it is no less than what they deserve. They also deserve to be able to be proud and excited of what they have done and nothing - least of all my reservations regarding the upcoming London run - should spoil that for them. They were amazing, they made people smile and feel the awe and wonder that makes Cats what it is and they deserve all the praise in the world for the incredible work they have been doing on the tour during their run. I know these people, on and offstage, I know what they do and I know how lovely they are and I am so excited, proud and happy for them to have been able to show off their talents for the assembled press yesterday. However, for me personally, yesterday was not exciting or joyful, and instead I, like many Cats fans, ended up feeling disappointed, angry and concerned.
Yesterday's news started, of course, with tickets for the London run finally going on sale. Initially I was considering putting aside the (considerable) amount of money it would take for me to get myself down to London, see the show, stay the night and return home, because Cats is too dear to my heart for me to miss out on something as prestigious as a second (albeit limited) London run. My concerns about casting were somewhat alleivated by the fact that the current touring cast were the ones who were on hand at the launch, though different articles disagree on whether or not this cast will be the cast which is brought through to the London shows. However, when I followed the link to the booking page for Cats in London, I was dismayed to find that the top pricing band for tickets in the stalls was £75. A spectacular show, a limited run, and in London...so I suppose, though I still felt £75 a little excessive (given that a front row seat to see the tour in Birmingham cost me only £31), I wasn't completely disillusioned until I realised that it wasn't possible for you to choose your own seat. Now, anyone who loves and knows the show is well aware that being in certain seats at Cats is a neccessaity if you hope to be able to interact with the cats when they come through the auditorium, and if you know the show well enough, you might even have preferences beyond being on an aisle or front row, since you may know the best part of the stage to see and/or interact with your favourite characters. In this modern era, it is common practice to at least give people the option of chosing their own seats, but, despite wishing to charge me £75, this was not available to me unless I booked through Ticketmaster, and even then, their choice of seats was incredibly limited and was mostly to the rear of the stalls. To me, this is just arrogant and cruel on the part of whichever people decide the pricing for such things; I am merely paying for the priviledge of seeing the show in the West End, am I not? Well, let me explain to you what that 'priviledge' means to those of us who are not from London: it means paying up to £100 in rail fare, at least £100 for a bed for the night, it means other expenses such as food and drink, both of which are more expensive in London than in my hometown. It is a massive undertaking and a huge financial expense, and then on top of all of that, I am expected to pay £75 for a seat I can't even chose for myself? It's disgusting, really. And don't get me wrong, I'm a huge supporter of the theatre and I understand the costs it takes to put on a show - but if it is possible to charge only £31 for a front row seat on tour, I can't help but wonder how £75 can possibly be considered reasonable once the show is stationed in London.
To add to my disappointment and anger, Andrew Lloyd Webber then began his talk of changes to the show. Small changes after all these years, perhaps I can understand; more modern rubbish int the Junkyard, I can understand that even if I don't fully agree with it. Things such as tweaking certain points in choreography, costume or meoldy to make things easier or better for the performers, or maybe even bringing in more modern technology to make Mistoffelees or Macavity seem more dramatic to a more modern audience, I could have understood. But then Andrew Lloyd Webber decided to talk about making wholesale changes to Tugger. First things first, I'm actually pretty much against even smaller changes: given that the touring production has been going down a storm without too much meddling, I think modern audiences are actually as in love with the show as audiences ever were. But outright changing the nature of a character is downright wrong, especially an iconic character such as the Tugger. Night after night, the Rum Tum Tugger is the song which warms up even the stiffest, most nonplussed audience - night after night people laugh, smile and dance along and they relate to the entire tone of his character. To some generations he's Elvis, to others Robbie Williams, there is always a reference point, always a popstar or singer which audiences percieve him as representing within the world of the Jellicles. But still Andrew Lloyd Webber wants to 'modernize' this iconic character? And in the worst possible way: by making his song hip-hop, making him rap, and calling him a 'street-dancer'. This is going to be painful and embarrassing - there is almost no other way this can end. Because Andrew Lloyd Webber is a man who knows nothing about hip-hop, rap, street dance, or the youth of today. It'll be like some embarrassing uncle at a wedding trying to be 'down with the kids'. It'll make the so-called 'new generation' of theatre-goers he's aiming for roll their eyes in distaste and will make the regular theatre-goers cringe, all the while making the loyal and dedicated fans of the show who have stood by it and defended it against the anti-Lloyd Webber crowd for years want to cry as they see what has become of it.
Cats is a timeless show. Cats is full of wonder and spectacle. The dancing is incredible, the music beautiful, the make-up and costumes innovative and delightful. These characters have all got their place in musical theatre now and the many performers who have taken on these roles have built even the quietest kitten into something which fans of the show look out for and remember. They are not to be messed with at this point, they hold too dear a place in too many people's hearts. And as for the feeling in a theatre when Grizabella reprises Memory...that is still as electric as it ever was and, for many people, everything else falls away when she sings her final verse. Whether Lloyd Webber feels he HAS to change the show in order to justify a limited London run I don't know, but if that's the reason then he is wrong, so very wrong. Cats deserves a chance to be in the West End again on merit, on years of service to thousands of theatre-goers, on the grounds that it has inspired so many dancers and performers over the years, some of whom are within the ranks of the 2014 tour cast right now!!
And all this brings me back to the point of price...because ok, maybe to some people £75 is a justifiable price, maybe I am just one of a handful of people who feels strongly about picking their own seat...but £75 to see a show I love potentially butchered in front of my eyes? I cannot in any way justify spending that amount of money (because remember, it comes to well over £200 all-in for someone like me who must travel down to London for the show) on something which could potentially be an awful, upsetting experience.
In terms of casting, I don't know if the current tour cast will continue in their parts or not, as I said, the press has been very conflicting in its information on casting, but I want to make it clear that I love this current cast so very much. They are amazing and I have an immense amount of respect and love for them for what they have created; a truly amazing version of my very favourite show. If they do continue to London then I wish them personally all the best and I hope that they enjoy every moment and that Andrew Lloyd Webber's meddling will not reflect in any way upon them and their hard work. They are truly a remarkable bunch and I hope that as many people as possible get to see them on what is left of their UK and European tour and can see just what wonderful things they have done with the show as it was and how I honestly hope and pray it will remain even after the London run has been and gone.
For any other Cats fans who are trying to weigh up what to do regarding the London run, I will just say this: I am going to see five evening performances of the show in Birmingham, performances of the show in its unaltered, much-loved form. For each of those five shows I am in the front three rows of the stalls, in seats I chose for myself. For three nights I will also be staying overnight in Birmingham. The total cost of all of this? Comes in only £50 over what it would cost me if I had decided to go for it and book myself a ticket for a seat I hadn't chosen for one performance of the show in a form I could potentially hate in London in January.