I have had a "Joel Morris Highlights Reel" file saved on my computer for a long time now - it was basically just every clip I'd ever found on the internet which included Joel playing Carbucketty during all his different appearances in the show. The only sad thing about that version of the "Highlights Reel" was that it had no sound and therefore no real impact, and I thought Joel just deserved SO much better, because his portrayal desperately deserved some sort of tribute, especially after he was clearly the tour's first call when they needed someone to step in and cover Carbucketty once more! So I spent hours - literally, hours! - after my trip to Belgium editing together all these clips for a second time and set them to some of my favourite songs from my stage door playlist, including a song which I thought of frequently when in Antwerp which I think is so appropriate for Joel and that is "The Last Poet" by Take That: "...when you see something so beautiful, a monastery of light and soul, stand taller than the high cathedral walls...but for you I can't find words, but for you there are no words..." As well as here - you can find the video on Joel's page.
So I ended up seeing my 54th ever Jellicle Ball in Antwerp, Belgium, and no, I wasn't expecting to be saying that either, or at least I wasn't just a few short weeks ago...This is the explanation for it all, and also an explanation for why my Twitter was temporarily taken over by #blamecarbucketty Please watch my very special video blog and find out the whole story, including tears, show highlights and much discussion about what makes a certain dancer The Best Ever.
Going to see Cats again after a long time away from the show is always a special, magical experience for me - and it has often been the start of a whole new journey, given that that scenario is what first brought to the stage door and what brought me the unique and beautiful memories and friends I made over the course of the 2013 - 2014 UK & Europe tour of the show. I always tell myself I won't get attached to the new casts, and I always find out I was lying to myself. So to be coming back to the show after so long away, and at my local theatre in Stoke-on-Trent The Regent, the place where I stage doored for the first time, did mean I took in a certain heightened level of magic and nostalgia when I sat down in my second-row-of-the-stalls-end-of-row seat and looked up at the beautiful Cats set that night. Of course, this time was different to all those times before - this time Cats is a different show with changes made to it that completely alter the experience for me and change what I am able to take out of it. But, having said that? I cried. So much. It was a beautiful, wonderful, amazing night and the adrenalin crash from it was hard. That feeling, when the Overture starts is - to quote Trevor Nunn - "indelible" and nothing can quite match the emotion of watching The Jellicle Ball, Mistoffelees, Memory and The Ad-Dressing Of Cats live. And there were definitely some stand-out performers in this cast who really caught my eye and made me smile, and who I took the time to cheer for in the Finale too, of course, taking all the under-appreciated Jellicles by surprise as I always do!
Meeting those three at stage door was another highlight of my night. It will never cease to astound me how much a smiling face in the stalls can mean to performers and my high-definition Cats fan in overload facial expression in the stalls - and of course my big cheers! - had not gone unnoticed by any of them, with all of them thanking me for it and telling me how much it meant to them to see and hear that reaction. I also give extra points to Shiv Rabheru for having the proper Cats fan reaction of "OH!! WHAT WAS THAT LIKE?!" when I mentioned I'd seen Jacob Brent and John Partridge as Mistoffelees and Rum Tum Tugger in the West End way back when!
However, being coldly, cruelly honest? Even though I came away on a cloud, and even though there were many moments of brilliance, the show is not as powerful as it was back in 2014 and some sense of tribe and personality has been lost since the 2014-2015 cast left the roles. And just to be clear, I don't mean that as an insult to this current cast: it is not their fault! They shine as individuals completely, but the changes to the show have shifted the dynamic of the tribe, tone down the opportunity to really personalise the characters and go crazy, sapped some of the humour out of the show and disrupted its flow and its warmth. Audience interaction is down, moments provided for the cast to give those little extra interactions and details have been clamped down, some of the physical and visual comedy, both centre stage and in the background of songs, have been stifled, something which I suspect has been handed down from on high from when the show was in London, as this was an aspect of 'Cats' second life' (as it was so infuriatingly dubbed) I picked up on back then, and it was so noticeable to me as I knew the 2014 cast so well I knew how much more they were beyond capable of putting into the show if they were allowed to.
On a more positive note, I did feel like the changes had been worked on sufficiently since they were first trialled in the Palladium production that some nice new moments could be found in them, and I actually enjoyed the changes a little more than I had done at previous trips to see the show at the Palladium and in Blackpool. I still am not comfortable with them, but they didn't ruin the show for me the same way they had before, and that is a good thing. However, sadly, I do still feel like the show has lost some of its spirit in this new form. I'm still not ok with the new, extended Jennyanydots tap routine: it's too long, there's too much focus on just Jenny rather than the whole beetle tattoo, the humour is gone and it feels neither catlike nor true to the character herself...though as a tap routine? Yes, it's an amazing tap routine, it just has no place in this show or this number.
Marcquelle Ward is by far the best person I have seen take on this new, revised Rum Tum Tugger and he almost - almost - convinced me to like the new Tugger...maybe if I'd never seen the old one, Marcquelle Ward is the absolute best you can get and he is doing the absolute best anyone can with the role as it is now. BUT...Tugger being this different, somehow smaller, less present personality leaves a gaping hole in the show and it makes the whole thing that bit more flat. Before the changes, every night, you could feel the moment the audience caved in and warmed up to the spirit and playfulness of the show - it was the Rum Tum Tugger's number! This larger than life, crazy-fun, rockstar character filled the auditorium and lit up the show, especially when he came into the audience, and his continued presence was always felt in every scene with the moments he was given even in the background of scenes...and, actually, a large part of that was just the costume alone, it was imposing and dramatic and the mane just drew attention. The new costume is not imposing or dramatic, and it's definitely not catlike, and having him being a breakdancing cat means that generally more compact body-type people are playing the role...makes for amazing breakdancing, but it also makes the Tugger less imposing, less of a presence...and yet the changes made to the character did not translate into changes to which numbers he sings or what he does in other characters' songs - the character no longer makes sense, and this dislodges him from the show and dislodges the characters around him as their reactions to him now take a little more to make sense of. The show also never gets that pure spark-to-life moments now until the Jellicle Ball - but that's almost the end of Act One, which is just too long to leave it since the audience will immediately lose that sensation when the interval happens. Tugger's number being changes bring the whole show down a level, and his character being changed brings the whole character of the tribe - and the personalities within it - down a level as they have to be subdued to give this new version of the Tugger any chance of seeming different.
The improvement comes largely from the return of humour to it - the cast have clearly been allowed to breathe a little bit more life and colour into it now than previous casts were allowed to and the number is much better for it - it feels faster and brighter than before and does a little bit of a better job of waking up the audience from the post-interval haze, even if it still doesn't achieve it quite as effectively as the old version did. I'm not a fan of the return of the aria, but I know that the aria v. Billy McCaw debate was raging long before the 'second life' changes between fans and it is a whole can of worms I won't be opening because I don't think there's a solution out there that will ever please everybody!
Make-up and costume changes - as well as marketing changes in the colour brochures - all indicate that terrible trend infecting more and more of the theatre: the idea of there being STARS and then everyone else who you shouldn't worry about sat at the back. And I'm not talking about the obvious costume changes (for example Grizabella, which I still loathe and think is so un-cat-like and so not graceful or intriguing but just kind of a mess. YUCK.) but more subtle things, alterations to the amount of colour, vibrancy and detail in characters' make-up and costumes, the dulling down of their individual patterns in favour of darker, more same-y matching shades of brown and black and beige whilst the 'star' characters are pushed forwards in terms of colour a little more but also in terms of having more lines or moments or more prominent positions on stage where previously those lines/movements/moments were shared over a greater number of characters, to the point where characters such as Cassandra and Tantomile and Coricopat - and even Jemima - almost felt like they were being pushed right out of the picture altogether at times, to me at least. Everything is muted and held back and toned down for the 'small' characters now in what seems to be an attempt to make them a homogeneous blob in order to point audiences towards 'who they should be looking at' and to give the audience a hint of who the 'stars' are and who they're 'supposed' to be watching and caring about, again taking away that special thing Cats had where any cat could be a star to anyone in an audience just by having one moment which they did something fun with, With that in mind, it's a small miracle the show still allows everyone their own bow at the end! Even the change I mentioned to Jennyanydots' solo seems to be aiming to stamp out individuality and the sense of this crazy tribe of different individuals who come together and match up only really when they're dancing, and the removal of a lot of the show's humorous moments is part of this too. It's sad and it's wrong and it drives me crazy. Cats was always set apart by the fact it had no such thing as a clear-cut star, but ALW and co. clearly don't care about that aspect, clearly favourite a more tacky, in-your-face approach.
Cats is still a unique, beautiful show. It still creates magic. And although this trip may not have started off any grand journeys, it did at least perhaps help me make a little peace with the new version of the show and it brought back the joy and love I have for the show, reminding me what it is truly about and what it's truly capable of making you feel, changes or no changes. This show has a piece of my soul and it sets it alight every time I watch it - there is no show on earth that can immerse you the way Cats can and no show on earth quite as magical as it is. So if you do see it - and if you're like me and worried about the changes - my advice would be to do what I did that night and just...let it go, just ignore that voice in your head saying it's ruined, immerse yourself in it and let yourself be transported to the world of the Jellicles again. It's still got it, you just have to let it take you and not let the changes throw off that feeling of being invited into the Jellicles' secret, magical world.
Recently, when talking about Cats - and the amazing current London cast - with some family friends I was asked "Why is Carbucketty your favourite?" and it surprised me how hard I had to think about that question. You'd think it'd be an easy answer, something I could sum up quickly and efficiently, but the truth of it is a lot more complicated - not due to a lack of reasons, but due to a plethora of them...and these days? Joel Morris is probably as much a part of the reason as anything. So what does any of this have to do with the title of "Two Years Ago Today"? Well, because it was two years ago today that I saw Joel Morris as Carbucketty for the first time, and it was the beginning a rare phenomenon occurring: I found my My Carbucketty - the ultimate, unbeatable performance of the role...
"Excuse me, were you Carbucketty........?"
I think that, perhaps, in order to understand my anxiety before that show two years ago, you first have to understand just how thoroughly attached to the 2006 tour cast I was - I had never truly recovered from their 2007 cast changes, and seeing a whole new set of performers just felt like a recipe for heartbreak in a way, as dramatic as that may sound. And a large part of that worry was over Carbucketty. You see, Carbucketty wasn't always my out-and-out hands-down favourite. When I was a kid, Quaxo/Mistoffelees pretty much owned my heart - I mean, I was six when I first saw the show and he SPARKLES so come on!! But my point is that, Carbucketty only really began to win me over during the 'wilderness years' - the time between me seeing it in the West End when I was younger and me seeing it live again on tour, when I was watching the video over and over and noticing all the characters in new ways. Carbucketty - or Pouncival as the video labelled him - became more and more interesting to me, and the more interested in the show I became, the more the supposed 'smaller' parts became the ones I saw as crucial to the show as I realised just how much work and character and magic performers put into those roles, how vital they were to the show. When I saw the show on tour in 2003, I was disappointed - I don't know if it was a bad day, the fact it was a matinee or if I had just gone in with unrealistic expectations having only seen it live on the huge New London stage previously, but whatever it was, I didn't single out any characters, not even Carbucketty. No. Carbucketty's real time? The 2006 tour. Kevin McGuire stole my heart in that role - suddenly Carbucketty went from being A favourite to being THE favourite. I still loved Alonzo and the kittens and had a soft spot for Munk and Misto....but Carbucketty was the Jellicle I adored, whose every move I knew and whose personality and quirks made me smile. Even that make-up - I just couldn't think of any other character's make-up as coming close to that cute CB design. Kevin McGuire was the one whose performance really built Carbucketty up for me - and that, you see, was what I was thinking Joel Morris was 'up against'. Two years later and you might think from what I've said that Joel has 'set the new standard' - but no. Joel isn't the standard, Joel just IS: no one can or will compete, he has become My Carbucketty, the one I know no performer can beat and they needn't try - from now on, every performer who plays CB is almost playing an entirely different character, to my mind, because when I think of Carbucketty, I think of all the traits and moments Joel has put into his performances, I think of Joel's abilities as a dancer, the way he does the make-up, the characterisation he has created is the true nature of the character in my head now. Other people can still come along and astound me (Oh, Dane Quixall's CB, classic example!!! Urgh, amazing!!!!) but when I describe CB to others, or think of him or write about him, it will always be about Joel for me. It's hard to explain but it's such a rare phenomenon that I feel I have to try in order to even come close to giving Joel the full credit he deserves.
So what did Joel do? What makes Joel so special? I could pick out so many moments and cute little details or I could tell you again that he's an incredible dancer, I could explain to you every little action and reaction he makes as CB that makes me love him - and Carbucketty too! - even more. But at the real heart of what makes Joel so special is...well, Joel himself. Because Joel is Joel: special is just who he is. I know that's a terrible explanation but I think it's the only way to sum it up. Joel is an amazing person - I have such admiration and awe for him, his work rate and his dedication but also his brightness and sharpness and energy. He's only human: he's a crazy little so and so (I say that with so much love and affection you have no idea!) because he's a perfectionist and he's tightly wound, but that's what makes him the amazing performer that he is. He never gives himself a break, he's not capable of going out on stage and not giving everything he's got to give at that moment I don't think - because if he doesn't he won't forgive himself for it. If anything the stage is where things seem to make the most sense to him - he has total control over his performance out there, can realistically set high standards and meet them in a way the real world doesn't always allow. I have never seen him falter - of the 12 men I have seen play Carbucketty, he is the strongest, definitely in terms of his ballet ability but also, I think, perhaps, in terms of his strength of character too. I don't mean that disparagingly towards those other Carbuckettys, I just mean that Joel is someone truly unique: he's unwavering and determined in a way very few people in the world are capable of being, and there isn't a single moment of the show where he isn't switched on - every interaction, reaction, right down to his always-pointed toes, is thought about and honed and it's just beyond breathtaking and endearing to watch.
"I notice you, I want to say. Even when no one else does, I do. I will."
And all of that is just him on a normal night - I've been lucky enough to see what happens when he pushes himself to his absolute limits and it's just stunning. He's brought me to tears before now, I've just been so overwhelmed. Trying to truly thank him is next to impossible, of course. I find myself in a loop of endless praise, hoping that my words at least come close conveying my very genuine gratitude. So what exactly did I mean at the beginning of this blog when I said I got swept away with Joel's 'beautiful and surprising' journey with the show? Well to tell you that perhaps I should start with the story of the night I first met Joel at the stage door. Anyone who has read my page for Joel on this site will know that the night I first stage doored for Joel was actually the second night I saw the show in Wolverhampton and - Joel probably won't thank me for bringing this up again - it wasn't really going so great at stage door for him at first. Don't get me wrong - I have total sympathy for people who don't stage door for Cats regularly and don't know the show and make-up and characters the way I do, I know it's hard to tell them apart at stage door sometimes and that is totally understandable, but the mistaken identity that night seemed harsh even by Cats stage door standards: Joel came out of the stage door and a woman gasped and stopped him to ask "Oh! Excuse me - were you the White Cat by any chance?" - I swear my heart stopped!! I'd already worked out he was Carbucketty at this point (thank you Joel for being that rare breed of performer who actually resembles their headshot at stage door!) and I felt my stomach just drop at the confusion. Joel managed to tactfully smile and say "The white cat's a....girl...." and the woman explained she saw a smudge of white make-up and one of the cast girls ran off laughing at poor Joel's expense and everyone was about to go on their way when out I jump. I have no idea what Joel thought when I leapt abruptly into his path and went "EXCUSE ME!" somewhat frantically - perhaps his heart dropped and he wondered "what next - am I Bombalurina? Demeter??" but then I got to do that thing I so love doing at stage door and make a performer realise that, actually, someone out there was watching and cared immensely what they had done that night: "Were you Carbucketty?" - those big brown eyes of his went very wide and he gave me one of the best smiles I've ever seen before saying "YES!!" and I got to tell him how Carbucketty is my favourite and it felt so good. I'm not going to lie - I will always get a kick out of being there to make the under-appreciated ones feel appreciated and that's one of the reasons I so love to repeat the story of that night at stage door, because I think it helps form another piece of the puzzle about why I stage door and why Carbucketty is my favourite.
"How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard."
When I went to see the show next in Nottingham, the first phase of cast changes had already happened and I was so happy to find that some of those new people were just as up for stealing my heart as their predecessors had been (yes, hello Cassie Clare and Adam Lake, I adore you both, but this isn't about you right now!) But it was still a bittersweet occasion for me: I thought it was going to be my last time ever seeing Joel as Carbucketty, just at the time when it was starting to become clear he was my favourite ever in the part. I was there for two nights in Nottingham and the first night the new Rum Tum Tugger (Filippo Strocchi) picked me to dance with, making the mistake of asking "Who's your favourite cat?" and even though I'm normally shy, even though I knew the polite thing to do, even though I knew it was ridiculous....I told him "Cabucketty!" - and oh, it was worth it! "Carbucketty she says!!" - I could see Joel smiling behind him and I just grinned unashamedly. The magic was cemented when the two came out of stage door at similar times and Filipo despaired whilst Joel was afforded the opportunity to mock-gloat as Filipo looked at me and just went "Carbucketty?? Really?!?" whilst shaking his head at me. Everything was just starting to reach that magical point in the tour where I can no longer imagine the show any other way...but Joel was about to leave and the following night - my last night seeing Joel as CB before he left the tour - I was so emotional I was practically shaking. Joel put in one of his crazy-next-level performances that night and it sent shivers down my spine; I was in tears before the end of the Jellicle Ball and at the end of the show I blew him a kiss in the Finale and thought my heart was about to burst with gratitude for giving me a performance like that to remember him in the part by. Of course, little did I know there was going to be another twist in the tale...
And yet, I still didn't dare believe it until I finally got to see his gorgeous face in Carbucketty make-up once again. And once I'd seen that, I then proceeded to cry through most of Act One as Joel once more took my breath away as Carbucketty. That night at stage door I just wanted to hug him so tight and thank him a million times over. I was chatting away with a whole group of cast when he appeared - Adam Lake, Cassie Clare, Hannah Kenna Thomas, Ben Mundy...but I saw him, out of the corner of my eye, and I think everyone suddenly realised they no longer had my attention because they parted just perfectly to let him through and I don't think it's physically possible to smile any wider than I did that night as I finally got to give Joel a squeeze again, him asking "Was that a nice surprise?!!" whilst a cluster of my favourite cast members stood around us in a circle going "Awwww" at our little Reunion Special in the middle of the pavement! A nice surprise didn't even begin to describe it - it was magical and amazing and glorious and one of my favourite memories ever - you can't put into words what moments like that mean and just how special it is that the theatre and stage door can throw up these little surprises and memories here and there and take you off guard in the best way possible.
"It's been very rare to have known you, very strange and wonderful."
Joel never ceases to amaze me of course: he saved perhaps his finest performance of all for my final night in Birmingham. I will always think of that as the last performance I saw of the show how I loved it - when I see it in London later this year it will be a different show from what it was that spell-binding, spine-tingling night..though I have every faith in Joel to make the London show beautiful for me. Still, I was floored by his performance that last night in Birmingham. He stole my breath, he made me cry, he stopped my heart and he filled me with all the awe and wonder possible. I was already emotional that night, but watching him dance the way he did, watching him put in a performance like that...I just couldn't believe how lucky I was to be there to see it, how lucky I was to know him and to be able to go to stage door after the show and hug him and thank him and let him know that every move he had made on the stage that night had mattered, so very much. By the end of Act One I was crying so much...good tears, overwhelmed tears, bittersweet tears, grateful tears - the best performers can do that do you, bring every emotion out of you and have you smiling and crying at the same time. The moment the lights went up in the interval I turned to my mum, tears running down my cheeks and I said "Joel is KILLING me" and I was smiling as I said it, even as I had to blink back a fresh wave of tears. Thirteen-and-a-half performances on from that first night in Wolverhampton and he'd done it - he'd met the standard set before him, surpassed it, set his own standard and then smashed through it to become beyond any standard. My Carbucketty. The Ultimate. Two years on from that Wolverhampton night and I am more grateful, more honoured than ever - if you'd have told me, even after I first met him at stage door, that he was going to leave the tour, return to the tour, break my heart, take my breath away, make me cry and then do the whole heart-stealing thing all over again in human form offstage...I probably wouldn't have believed you - it's just such a rare thing for any person to do, even in my beloved Cats, even in the role of Carbucketty. So to return to the question that I started this entry with - "Why is Carbucketty your favourite?": Carbucketty is my favourite for a lot of reasons, but, two years to the day since I first saw Joel Morris play Carbucketty I can safely say there's one more reason to add to the list...thank you Carbucketty for bringing Joel Morris into my world and thank you Joel Morris for being so very you. Just this week, I was at Top Hat's stage door, talking to the delightful Matthew Caputo and he asked me "What would you do if you saw Joel do Misto?" and I said "Probably weep uncontrollably with joy!" - I wasn't lying : to see him dance that Mistoffelees solo might actually make me explode with glee because really...the boy can dance and ohhh, the Mistoffelees solo is so gorgeous when a dancer of Joel's ability performs it!!! But I don't need Joel centre-stage doing the Mistofelees dance routine to know he's a special person, to know he is talented and to appreciate everything he has to give, and honestly I can selfishly appreciate having him play my favourite Jellicle instead. But I know him - onstage and offstage - and the light he has in him is unstoppable, whatever role he's playing. It's that light that made him into My Carbucketty, and two years on from that first performance I went into full of such anxious scepticism, I am delighted to say every worry I had was unfounded! Instead, now I am so happy and proud to know he is the one who got to bring Carbucketty back to the West End - I'm not sure there is anyone more deserving of being able to dance on the Palladium stage. So on that note...Happy Carbuckeversary to me! And anyone on their way to the Palladium before the show closes in April: just keep an eye on Joel Morris, because I promise you, you'll be amazed.
My scrapbook is finally finished!! It has taken weeks, and a lot of star stickers, but the end result is definitely worth it! I've really enjoyed reliving my stage door journey with this tour and being able to go through all these photos and tickets and remember all the crazy journeys and amazing performances. It was a huge task but immense fun, especially now that it's all done and I can sit down and look through it as a complete story. My favourite pages are possibly the ones I did for individual cast members - getting to remember the first time I met Dawn Williams, Cassie Clare, Ben Mundy, Joel Morris and Adam Lake - and going crazy with the star stickers on Adam Lake's page was a lot of fun, even if I was finding star stickers on the carpet for days after that! Some other very special, lovely pages to work on were the ones where I say both 'Goodbye' to Joel as Carbucketty and then suddenly there he is back again! Because really, those were possibly some of the best memories of the tour - that day in Birmingham when I first got to see him back in the programme but wouldn't let myself believe it until I saw his face as Carbucketty again was so special to me, and I did then proceed to cry throughout Act One because I was so overwhelmed - perhaps I should have added somewhere in this scrapbook that Joel Morris holds the title of 'Person Who Has Moved Me To Happy Tears With His Performance The Most Times Of Anyone Ever', as it is a title to be very proud of!! These people and these memories are so special to me and now I have this wonderful scrapbook to show people and tell them the stories of all these amazing, talented, magical people! So thank you to all of the cast members who signed this scrapbook for me and to all of the cast for every performance, photograph, memory and for just being such a fantastic bunch. And of course, thank you to those extra-special, lovely people who gave me so much of their time and became such a huge part of this Stage Door Scrapbook Story: Cassie Clare, Adam Lake, Joel Morris, Ben Mundy and Dawn Williams, you guys are amazing and I adore you all!
A long overdue change has been made to my Dream Cast! Ever since I saw Kathryn Barnes and Benjamin Mundy as Tantomile and Coricopat for the first time back in May in Llandudno, I knew these two were just a whole different class. I'm not one for watching the twins normally, but these two had my attention immediately and I've grown to love them more and more ever since. As indiviuals and as a pair, these two are stunning as the gorgeous Jelilce twins and had already made my Dream Swing section, but really and truly, I couldn't justify keeping them out of the main cast any longer and so this September they both got bumped up into the main Dream Cast with new collages to match!
And so another chapter of my stage door story has come to a close. This September at the Birmingham Hippodrome, I said an emotional goodbye to the Cats UK & Europe Tour 2013-2014 in a whirlwind of five shows and an awful lot of time spent, once again, at the stage door.
I have to say that although it broke my heart, I was, and still am, glad I was there.
It's funny, but I still remember, so clearly, my emotions back in March 2013 as I prepared for seeing the new Cats UK Tour for the first time. If I'm honest I was coming from a place of scepticism; I had loved the last tour cast of Cats so very much that I wasn't sure what it would be like to see new people in those parts, offering their new interpretations and performing the show their way. Of course, the moment I heard the opening notes of Cats' Overture, I realised how ridiculous those worries had been. Because Cats is my favourite show, and just because it was new people in those parts didn't mean I would love it any less - perhaps I might still have favourites from the last cast, but this new cast were equally talented, equally capable of enchanting me. Appropriately it was Dawn Williams who first won me over and broke down all my remaining sceptisim; one smile from her in the part of Jemima and I was sold, and she became the first person I spoke to at stage door for the 2013-14 tour and never faltered for a moment in the tour, a constant favourite of mine on and off the stage. And then, of course, I must mention my lovely Carbucketty for the majority of the tour; Joel Morris danced, my jaw dropped, I told him I was a Carbucketty fan at stage door and, from that moment on, I realised that he too is an unfaltering star. With two new favourite, I was able to relax, to start to appreciate the show even more and to see the joy of other new people in parts I had thought the 2006 tour only could play. And as the cast travelled and changed, I grew to love them more and more to the point where they stole my heart completely. And there were some members of the cast I grew closer to than others - Cassie Clare, Adam Lake and Benjamin Mundy are three more incredibly bright, shiny stars who I was lucky enough to spend so much time with at stage door and who I feel honoured to have seen perform and to have gotten to know. And of course I said goodbye to Joel in Nottingham, only to have him return and take my breath away (and make me cry happy, overwhelmed tears) in Birmingham. So much has happened, so many memories have been made, and I have cried, laughed, smiled, hugged and danced more than I could ever imagine - getting to know this tour, spending time with this cast and watching them perform has been like living a dream and it breaks my heart that this time in my stage door story has had to end. Of course I wish nothing but the best for my dear friends from this cast as they begin the new challenge that Cats in London will provide, but for me it is an unknown quantity, as, between changes to the show, stunt casting which I am yet to be convinced of as being in the best interests of the show, ticket pricing issues, ticket booking issues and travel expenses, I don't know if or when I will be able to make it to the show again, and if I will ever love it so much as I do now even if i do manage to see it. But for all the tears and emotion on my last night in Birmingham, I am so very glad for the time I have spent with this tour and so very grateful for the wonderful people I have met. So thank you, Cats Tour 2013-2014, from the bottom of my heart.
As, no doubt, many of you will be aware, last weekend the announcement of the casting of Cats' West End return was announced last weekend amid a publicity flurry, with Andrew Lloyd Webber, the people who run Cats' online media and the West End press doing their very best to convince me that the only thing I ought to be excited about was the fact that Nicole Scherzinger had deigned to grace the Jellicle Junkyard with her presence. Meanwhile, the news that the majoirty of the Cats UK & Europe Tour Cast - who have been entertaining audiences up and down the country to great acclaim all year - will also be reprising their roles for the London run was laregely brushed aside. As I have stated before; my excitement for these hardworking, lovely, talented people is genuine and boundless, I am so happy for them and so proud of them for being involved in such a prestigious event in London's world-famous West End, at such a famous theatre as the Palladium as well. I wish them nothing but the best and I wish them every success and to finally be allowed to announce to anyone and everything that, yes, these people who I have done nothing but tell you about for months on end, these people whose talents I have told you about for so long, they are the ones who will be trusted with taking Cats into the West End at the end of this year has been a joy. But I cannot be joyful without a certain amount of caution. Make no mistake about it, Scherzinger's casting is out and out stunt casting on Lloyd Webber's part - and, whilst I mean no disresepect to her and certainly do not dispute her vocal abilities, I am still angry that it has been allowed to happen. My first issue with it is that Sophia Ragavelas has had to accept being made 'alternate' in order for Scherzinger to join the cast. Sophia has been playing Grizabella week in, week out, and let me tell you, there is no-one - possibly not even Elaine Paige - who is a better fit for that part right now than she is. I have never - in all the 49 performances of Cats which I have been to - seen anyone hold an audience the way she does, the atmosphere in the theatre when that woman sings is phenomenal, like nothing I've ever experienced before. Could Nicole Scherzinger recreate that? Who knows. But should the question even be being asked when someone as talented as Sophia is ALREADY DOING IT? Absolutely not. You have your Grizabella already - no celebrity was needed for the job. Not to mention the fact that Scherzinger, predicatbly, will not be performing as many shows as the rest of the cast; if a mere mortal, non-celebrity performer of equal or more talent to Scherzinger walked into an audition and was asked "Can you perform from the 6th of December up to February 7th, including shows over the holiday period?" and their answer wasn't a "Yes, I'm available for ALL those dates and am happy to perform over the holidays" then it is likely that they wouldn't be given the part - but the rules are different for a celebrity, of course, and so Scherzinger gets New Year's off (not wholly unheard of for a 'leading' role) and to bow out before the rest of the cast (not exactly fair considering she is being billed as 'starring' in the show - despite Cats being a show where there is really no such thing as a singular 'starring'' role.) The show is yet to even start its London run, the hype for this London Cats revival has barely even begun and I alreayd can hardly bear it, because everyone has already started jumping on the celebrity bandwagon in a show which simply didn't need such a ridiuclous stun. And yet Lloyd Webber has decided to undermine his own work by going ahead and invinting the circus. Weeks before previews even begin and Nicole Scherzinger is already recieving all of the credit, all of the plaudits and all of the attention, as though Cats were a one woman show; will she be running round in quick-change trying to get on a Macavity costume in time? Will she be flat-out dancing for fourteen minutes every night in the Jellicle Ball? Will she be putting in a year's shift to make up for all the time the rest of the cast have been doing the show compared to her? Of course not. And yet it was barely possible to make out the casting of the rest of the show it was shoved so far down the press release, and already the banners of 'See Nicole Scherzinger in Cats' have begun to crop up, as though there is nothing more to the show than her. It angers me, and it is representative of so much that is wrong in theatre at the moment. And to cement my anger with the decision, there are now people buying tickets exclusively to see her - people who will no doubt feel somehow disappointed or cheated should they happen to be there on a day when Scherzinger cannot perform, despite the fact that they would be seeing the immensely talented, incredible Sophia Ragavelas instead. And these people - these people who don't care for the show at all, some of whom were happy to slag it off and will no doubt miss out on so much of the joy of Cats because of their evident prejudice against it, these are the people I am losing out on tickets to. Expensive tickets that I am struggling to find a way of choosing for myself, tickets I was already having a hard time getting due to a need to save up and a need to try and find tickets in specific seats despite the Palladium not offering an option to select seats on line, these tickets are no disappearing faster and faster and forcing me into a situation where I need to decide to get tickets before I neccessarily have th money too. The whole thing feels unfair, and wrong and it is turning something I love into something which upsets me. Every time I see an advert for Cats right now, my joy is dimmed, as instead of thinking of my beautiful friends in the cast, my favourite characters or songs, my favourite memories and moments in the show...instead of all that, I think about all the press attention that has totally dismissed the rest of the cast in favour of a stunt-casted celebrity, I think about how on earth I am going to get tickets, whether I can afford to get down to London and whether or not I'll be able to get seats that I want to sit in, I think about what changes are being made to this show that is so dear to me and wonder if it will ever be as beautiful as it once was again. This whole thing has upset me, stressed me out, angered me, and it's so sad that I'm being made to feel this way about the show I love. Andrew Lloyd Webber has so much to answer for - and yet he doesn't have to answer to any of it, because, really, it seems he is beyond out of touch these days, and too stubborn to take criticism even from those people who actually DO support him and appreciate his talent, giving little more regard to fans of his shows than he does to those members of the press and the musical theatre world who have, for so long, so stubbornly refused to acknowledge his talent.
So this video is a little tribute to the incredible spectacle of the Jellicle Ball, as performed by the beautiful, talented guys and girls who have been part of the 2006-2009 & 2013-2014 UK & Europe tours - and actually, the video also doubles as a tribute to all the amazing dancers who have been part of these tours! Basically I pooled clips from the UK Tour in 2006, their stop in Portugal, Germany in 2008/9 and then the clips of the 2013 cast from the Olivier Awards as well as the 2014 cast launching Cats at the London Palladium. Hope you enjoy the video, which can now be found on the Videos page along with all my other theatre-related videos to date.
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.
You know that moment when Grizabella sings 'When the dawn comes, tonight will be a memory too...' - that's the moment in the show where I lose it. Because it is SO true. The theatre is all about transience, really. Your favourite show isn't like your favourite book or TV show or film, because you never, ever can see the same show twice, there is an exact and unique chemistry to every single night at the theatre which is never recreated and it is lost when the sun comes up the next morning only for something entirely different but equally magical to be conjured up the next night. And when you know you're not going back to see the show until September? Yeah, that's when you realise that more than ever and you end up crying solidly from Memory to the end of The Ad-Dressing Of Cats...and then again on the train back home!
I wish I could freeze this moment, right here, right now, and live in it forever..
So yes, I went to Canterbury for two nights this week to see Cats, and it was so very magical, I cannot even begin to decribe it. And this cast...ohhhh this cast. They've stolen my heart, it's terrible!!!!! They are all so good, every single one of them! Of course I have my favourites, and of course I always end up falling for the underappreciated characters, it's just how I am! But every single member of this cast is amazing, and their swings are incredible and I just...there are no words for how it makes me feel to see the show I love performed so well by such a lovely bunch of people. And then I'm lucky enough to be able to go to stage door and thank them in person and let them know I noticed all those little details they put in! Talking to these lovely people at stage door was actually almost as much fun as the show! My seat was my favourite side of the stage, and believe me when I say...I was practically sitting on the set! The stairs were not kind to the performers, let me tell you! Very little room for error!! And yes, Ben Yates (Mungojerrie) nearly broke my neck falling down those stairs...which he assured me was an accident! But I still loved it, even with the near-death experience in the Finale! At least when I'm the one sitting there then the cast know I'm well aware of when I need to keep my feet well and truly tucked in!! Although that's not to say they still don't make me jump sometimes when they leap down into the stalls!!
Anyway, so many amazing memories of the show and of stage door, and I can never ever thank these lovely, talented people enough. But I did cry on the train home (my iPod is to blame - Embrace's 'I Had A Time' and Coldplay's 'A Sky Full Of Stars' back-to-back creating a flood of bittersweet/sleep-deprived emotion!) and hopefully they know that that means they did their job well! I just hope they know how much I'm going to miss them until September! All I can do is say: to my two Carbuckettys, thank you both, you were both darling and gorgeous and amazing. To Ben Yates: you made me laugh when I was crying in Ad-Dressing of Cats so you are a hero, even with the nearly killing me thing! To Cassie: you're a star, always. And to Adam, Ben and Dawn...you three are the best and I don't think I stopped smiling (even when I was crying) thanks to you three on and off the stage, I adore you all for so many reasons and I'm sending you so many cheers and smiles and whoops and you have no idea how much I wish I could deliver them to you in person from the front row every night! To all the cast: thank you from the bottom of my heart!
Again, a more detailed story of my Canterbury trip will eventually appear on this website once I finally manage to write up allll the many stage door pages on this site! It's very, very long road to get all these stage doors written up but I'm getting there slowly and once all the other pages on this site are done then I will focus solely on the stage door pages, so a time will come when all these stories are up. But for now I'll leave you with some lovely photographs of me and some very lovely talented peope, including the gorgeous group shot I got on my second night with Adam Lake (Alonzo), Dawn Williams (Rumpleteazer), Ben Mundy (Coricopat), Natasha Mould(Jemima), Kathryn Barnes (Tantomile) and Hannah Kenna Thomas (Victoria).
If you are lucky enough to find yourself at Cats, then give these people a cheer from me and remember that every character in Cats is special and unique and no-one should be taken for granted! Cheer Admetus, watch Cassandra see off Griz, remember that Alonzo is the one who wounds Macavity and that Carbucketty and Bill Bailey have a unique talent for mischief. And most importantly? Let these wonderful, talented people see you smile back up at them - give them energy to feed off, because you never know who might be having a bad day or who might be missing home or be struggling with the heat and sometimes if you just will them on then you can make it a tiny bit more bearable. All of this wonderful cast deserve nothing but good audiences, so help 'em out for me, ok? And if you go to stage door - don't be afraid to speak up!!!! Like I said on my Hints & Tips page: remember the understudies and make someone's day, or tell them who your favourite character is, let them know that what they're doing truly does matter...and if you're not sure? Ask! They don't bite I promise: they're lovely people who are more than happy to explain who they played, what they did or even help you find whichever member of the cast you're looking for, but they can't show you how lovely they are if you never ask: I wouldn't even have got to know Ben Mundy if I hadn't have asked him to take a photograph for me!! And if you make them smile, then they will leave you smiling in return.
So Cats is heading back to London. And I suppose you might expect that, as a fan of the show, and as it is so close to my heart, I would be delighted and excited to hear this news. But, I will be absolutely honest with you all, I have such mixed feelings about it all! On the one hand, it is exciting to see the show get a chance to play a run in Theatreland. But on the other hand...all this talk of making changes to it has me very worried. I know this makes me sound terribly picky and snobbish but...messing with Cats for the sake of trying to modernize it, or even just for the sake of trying to impress London, is such a risky thing to do and I can't say I agree with it at all. Cats as it is...is beautiful. It's magical, it's wonderous and it has been touring the UK and Europe for over a year now PROVING that people love it and appreciate its magic just the way it is. I never deal well with change, and when something is as close to my heart as Cats is it makes me outright nervous. The theatre these days so often seems to be deserpately seeking some mysterious popular-culture approval - I think Les Miserables being such a runaway box office success and all these musical movies which are following it has created this want from a lot of corners for the same mass-appeal, unexpected sensation thing to happen in everything. And honestly, they try so hard that a lot of the time I think they ruin it for themselves, because it SHOWS that they're tyring too hard and that just spoils it. And I can't help but be anxious that this is what Andrew Lloyd Webber seems to be thinking with Cats - though obviously I'm prepared to be proved wrong! Still, I can't help but feel it's a bit of a kick in the teeth to the current touring cast...though I'm sure they won't feel that way, I feel very defensive of them all as I am so attached to them and their take on it. It was only earlier this month that Andrew Lloyd Webber went to see these wonderful people in Llanduno and now he's announced a potentially different version of the show they performed for him will be heading to the West End and a whole new cast will have to be in it, presumeably, since the current cast are Europe-bound and still tied up on tour in the time this London cast would be being assembled. Unless, of course, there is enough of a break to rehearse with them in at the Palladium at the end of their European adventure so they would go straight through to the London show seamlessly? That would be a nice surprise, though a nightmare from my personal point of view in terms of trying to get down to London to see them!! It would just feel very, very wrong to me to have this tour be steamrollered, if this cast aren't going to continue through to London, because then they would have all their hard work shunted to one side (admitedly somewhat accidentally) by all the press attention on the West End run. So yes, I don't know how I feel about the news, honestly. Mixed emotions, generally, and I just sincerely hope it turns out for the best and that this talk of change is very much overstated and that the cast I've come to love so much stay on. And of course I also hope that any change won't be forever, regardless of how significant it may be: when a new tour eventually comes around, I would dearly like it to be the show I know and love and have loved since I was six in essence, sound and feel, even with a brand new cast making it their own every night. I suppose I will get a clearer idea when they announce the casting - and I think it will be the casting announcement which I will leave to be the decider as to whether I try to get tickets or not.
So I'm back at home again, recovering from three fabulous nights of theatre in Llandudno - a place where I had so many happy memories already, and now I have a whole bunch more to add to the collection. I don't even know where to begin with explaining how amazing my time in Llandudno was, how special the performances I saw were, or how brilliant my time at stage door there was either. There were so many highlights, so many amazing moments. I have now seen 37 performances of Cats - no two ever the same, several different casts, lots of different interpretations of characters. But I think these last three have to have been up there with the best ever. This cast...I don't say this lightly: they are amazing. I adore them! They're so talented and sweet and their interpretation of the show is so wonderful. I was so attached to the 2006 cast, and I was so worried I would never feel the same way about the show again after seeing that tour. But this cast are simply stunning. Adam Lake the anti-gravity Alonzo, Cassie Clare the most expressive and beautiful Cassandra I've ever seen, Dawn Williams my adorable Rumpleteazer, Natasha Mould a simply precious Jemima, Benjamin Mundy a gorgeous Coricopat, Benjamin Yates a michieveous Mungojerrie, Callum Train a delightful Munkustrap, Adam Salter a fantastic Bill Bailey...and two FANTASTIC Carbuckettys for me to watch in the form of Dane Quixall (nights 1 and 3) and Ryan Gover (night 2) - and those are just my very very favourites, because honestly, every single member of this cast should really get a mention. They were stunning and there are so many things I feel I should say, but then this post would turn into less of a Theatre Diary entry and more of a full-blown stage door/show report.
I think there was just something in the air in Llandudno - the sun was shining every day, a lovely sea breeze in the air. The audiences were so amazing, and the cast's energy was up and so was the audiences and each fed off the other and it was glorious to be in. I don't think I stopped smiling for the entire show, or stage door for that matter. I'd say the entire time I was there - but getting up early for breakfast at the B&B after being up late at the theatre the night before wasn't really conducive to a big grin!! Perhaps a post on show highlights might follow, or perhaps I'll save it for when I get round to typing up the Llandudno page, but for now I think the thing I most want to say is that this cast is a glorious cast and there are so many individual moments of brilliance that it's hard to know who to look at at any given time! Adam Lake's Alonzo and Cassie Clare's Cassandra are definite show-stealers, that's for sure, but really, every one of this cast is on form and fabulous and I feel so happy, proud and honoured to have been able to spend three nights watching them shine, cheering them on like crazy and smiling up at them from the front row of the stalls, willing them on for every leap and turn. There simply aren't words.
I always love my Carbuckettys, he's always going to be my favourite Jellicle, but some CBs just capture your heart more than others, and last night I got to see one last performance from possibly my favourite ever Carbucketty: Joel Morris, who's leaving the tour before I next see it. This little dancing dynamo won my heart back at the first show I saw of this cast and he's just this perfect bundle of fluff. Adorable, talented, and oh-so-sweet. My last image of him as CB will be the adorable Proud Kitten Pose he struck as I gave him one last, big cheer, before he tried to march centre-stage for a final star turn, only to be told off by the grown-up cats. He blew me a kiss before he had to leave the stage and I got a lovely kitten shoulder-nuzzle from him in the Finale too, a moment I will definitely treasure! We parted at stage door with a hug and I'm gutted I won't get to see his sweet Carbucketty again, but I would love if I ever got the chance to see him dance again at least. So all the best Joel - and thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for your amazing performances which brought my favourite Jellicle so perfectly to life! I'm proud to have been able to cheer you on for nine whole nights and you will always be one of my favourite ever Carbuckettys! Keep your little Carbucketty as a good luck mascot and know that you're a star! All the best for the future and thank you again.xxx
You know you've been to the stage door of a show too many times when you end up taking photographs with the tour's company manager!! But come on, he's Steve Diamond! This man is a legend! I remember him from the 25th Anniversary Tour, and I couldn't resist talking to him when I saw him at stage door. After all, returning to Nottingham to see Cats again for the first time since the tour's cast change brought back a lot of memories of being at the Nottingham Concert Hall back in 2007 for the Anniversary Tour's cast change day. And one of those memories of that day? The cast's traditional mischievous final matinee antics, including changing Gus the Theatre Cat's 'real name' to being Steve Diamond! 'Did that they really do that?!' Joel Morris (Carbucketty) asked, wide-eyed at that cast's boldness, as I mentioned this at stage door the first night, and Steve Diamond rolled his eyes: 'Yes. They did.' I think he was long-suffering with that cast!
As ever the show itself was brilliant and I was in tears by the end of it all - eventually it shall all be written up properly in the Nottingham Concert Hall page for the 2013-2014 tour cast, but for now, I will say that, perhaps the highlight of my first night watching the show again was when the new Rum Tum Tugger picked me to dance with him during his song. As he twirled me round and then guided me back to my seat, he asked confidently 'Who's your favourite cat?' - not expecting me to unapologetically reply 'Um...Carbucketty!' - the look on his face was classic! 'Carbucketty, she says!' he retorted, looking back over to the stage. And just over his shoulder, my lovely CB Joel Morris was just about managing not to laugh outright, though he was grinning widely and was no doubt at least a little smug! At stage door later, Tugger (Filippo Strocchi) recognised me - he came out just as I was talking to Joel - and he went 'Carbucketty?! Really?!' playfully, no doubt enjoying teasing Joel a little more. Joel was so sweet and funny, airily going 'Of course!' and waving his hand fake-dismissively, and I shot back 'If you ask me my favourite cat, you're going to get an honest answer!' before telling him, with a wink, that I felt that Tugger needed an ego check every now and again and he sportingly winked back at me. I later got the chance to talk to him properly and he couldn't resist telling Grizabella when she came out 'She's the one - I pulled her up to dance and I asked her her favourite cat and she goes 'Carbucketty'' and Grizabella found it very funny - I get the impression word had spread quickly about the incident amongst the cast! The next night he managed to appear when I was talking to Joel yet again - he saw who I was with and gave a little mock roll of his eyes! Upstaged by a kitten...again!!! hehe
The first night I stuck mostly to talking to Dawn Williams (now playing Rumpleteazer) and of course Joel (my lovely CB) as I wasn't fully confident I was ready to risk making guesses as to who was who amongst the new cast members. But night two I made sure to take my courage in my hands and I successfully identified a full house of the people I wanted to see; Adam Lake - the fantastic, hilarious, acrobatic Alonzo whose Rumpus Cat has me in stitches, Adam Salter the new adorable Bill Bailey with a mischievous streak, and Cassie Clare, who is in fact the new Cassandra, but I was lucky enough to see her take a fiery and fabulous star turn as Bombalurina and let me tell you, gorgeous does not even cover it...think Rosemarie Ford in the DVD cast and then times that by a thousand and put a cherry on top. I told her as much and she seemed so happy and excited to hear it, I think I may have made her night! I love giving credit to fierce understudies like her - they never get nearly enough credit for the shifts they put in and the performances they turn out!
So now it's no more Cats until Llandudno for me - by which time there will be even more new faces to see! But I'm definitely looking forward to seeing these newbies again. Alonzo was so appreciative, and Dawn was kind enough to pop up as I was talking to Bill Bailey; 'Carbs, Jemima and Bill are her favourites' so he was very happy about that. And like I say, Cassie Clare was just over the moon that I liked her performance. They're a sweet bunch and they're soooo talented, really bringing out some new things in the roles which I loved.
More to follow when I eventually type up all the stage door reports, but for now, just know that you should be getting yourself down to see these talented guys! Cats is still touring the UK until the end of the year and this bunch are super-sweet and super-talented. Remember: it's not all about Grizabella and Mistoffelees! The other Cats are funny, fantastic, fierce and hard-working and they don't get nearly enough recognition, so go ahead and make an under-appreciated actor's day with a cheer or a compliment at stage door! It'll pay off - you'll get stage door hugs and love in return that way and you get to remind an actor that, even on bad days, it matters what they're doing out there.
Thank you to all the people I've met and spent time with at the theatre this year; it's been a year of extreme stage doors (back to back West Side Story and Billy Elliot!!!) and of new friends (Dawn Williams, Joel Morris and the Jellicles of 2013's UK Tour Cast of Cats!) and I even got to meet Stephen Mangan! So, thank you 2013 for being such a year of theatre, here's to hoping 2014 will bring even more stage door memories!
Happy New Year Theatre Fans!
Hope we all have some of the best days of our lives at the theatre again soon.xxx
I got to dance with Jemima tonight! But what a show it was...the atmosphere in the Liverpool Empire tonight was electric! Iooooved it! Some highlights; being pulled up to dance with Jemima (Dawn Williams) and then Bill Bailey (Will Lucas) of course, but also, having Alonzo (James Darch) right in front of me for Naming of Cats NAILING the Alonzo eyes and smile, seeing Carbucketty and Bill Bailey (Joel Morris and Will Lucas) be super-precious giving Munkustrap a headache in Bustopher Jones, so much so that he had to move CB, much to CB's annoyance! The Jellicle Ball...just....so magical. Every single person on that stage just kicked it up a notch tonight. It's such a shame so many people will be going and changing round in this cast because they're just starting to really click and kick into gear and I just...wow. Loved it. Such a fantastic night and a great stage door experience too with all my favourites stopping to chat and have photos with me! Got a lovely Jemima and Bill Bailey sandwich and thanks to the lovely Matthew Caputo (swing and superstar!) I also got to chase through Liverpool Lime Street and get a photo and chat with James Darch, who I think was possibly my hero of the night with that Naming of Cats rendition...because seriously, he just WAS Alonzo in those minutes. Wowwwwww. Seriously, I've gotten attached to them just in time for them to leave, how is that fair?! I'm seriously going to miss Will Lucas as Bill Bailey and Jess Buckby as Cassandra, and when he goes eventually I'll really miss Joel as CB too! But yes, it was an excellent show to end my Cats tour of 2013 with and an excellent show and stage door to remember the leavers by...but right now? I'm exhausted and need my sleep before I upload any photographs. Look out for the pictures popping up on the Cats Tour 2013-2014 section soon though! And I promise, the text on all these stage door pages is an ongoing project!
It's nearly time for my final trip to stage door for the year as I'm due to make my way to Liverpool in December to take in another performance of my beloved Cats before Christmas. The Liverpool Empire theatre in December is a cold one - I know this from experience! - but that's not stopping me planning a nice outfit to go in. I'm braving a lovely dress and getting in the twinkly festive spirit even though it's only the first week of December as my outfit plan includes red and green as well as blue and of course a little bit of sparkle!
This lovely blue dress caught my eye when I was in Chester a few weeks ago - it was my graduation day and we stopped off at a Tesco Home for a coffee (there was a Costa inside, we didn't just set up a picnic in store!) and, because it was a special occasion, my dad bought the dress for me as a bonus graduation gift. The scarf is an Accessorize one - as I've said before, Accessorize are usually my first port of call when I'm planning a stage door trip, because scarves and hair accessories are a cheap way of making existing outfits seem different and new, definitely cheaper than buying a new dress every time, at least it is if you're up and down to the theatre as often as I try to be! The scarf was actually bought to go to London to visit Dean in and it worked so beautifully I'm happy for the excuse to use it again. The scarf just happened to be hanging next to the dress and I noticed the other day how well they went together and I think, paired up with a simple black coat, my go-to black 300 denier tights and my reliable Dorothy Perkins deep red court shoe style boots. Sadly, although they're great for wearing with dresses at winter stage doors, the boots are no longer available but you can still buy the dress from Tesco for a very reasonable £25, the scarf is still available on Accessorize for £19 and my go-to tights are £12 from Dorothy Perkins.
As always, I'm planning on giving my outfit a bit of sparkle with some Accessorize hair accessories. I have all three of these gorgeous hair slide sets which I'm planning to use to pin up one side of my hair and then leave the rest loose in the same way I did for my trips to West Side Story and Billy Elliot in November. These pretty hair slides can all be found on Accessorize for £8 each, but Accessorize also have some really lovely flower corsages and clips in stock at the moment too if they're more your style. The reason I like these particular slides is because they feel and look perfect for the outfit I've planned and somehow they seem wintery to me too. I'm planning on leaving my other accessories to a minimum for the purposes of this look to show off these gorgeous twinkly slides; no necklace and a simple bracelet of dark red to match my scarf. I'm definitely looking forward to this theatre trip; it's my last trip to see Cats for a while and I'm hoping it will be festive, magical, wintery and beautiful and I can't wait to start getting ready and making this look work the way I'm planning! So excited!!
This is me surrounded by Cassandra (Jessica Buckby), Bill Bailey (Will Lucas), Alonzo (James Darch), Carbucketty (Joel Morris) and Jemima (Dawn Williams) from the Cats UK Tour 2013. I was standing at stage door, with a semi-circle of my FAVOURITE performers from the show all smiling at me and these angels just were so precious and sweet to me even though I was babbling like an idiot because I didn’t know who to talk to because they were all so perfect. They're often some of the most under-appreciated characters by a lot of the audience, but they seriously made my night and their characters (certainly when portrayed by these lovely people) are always some of the most fun to watch. These guys can dance…and they also happen to be super-adorable too - especially Joel Morris (CB) and Dawn Williams (Jemima) who frankly are incredible in every way. It was an AMAZING night and if you find yourself at the Cats UK Tour 2013/2014 then you should try and show these guys some love, because they’re basically incredible human beings who are ridiculously talented and they will make you laugh with their background shenanigans for sure. It's a situation that has never happened to me before and it was brilliant and bewildering! Of course, this website is still very much a work in progress, but I hope to be able to tell you more about the amazing 2013 tour cast of Cats very soon and I will hopefully be adding pages for Joel Morris and Dawn Williams to the 'The People' section in the future as well. Keep checking back!
For my 21st birthday, my mum put all of her baking and cake decoration skills to the test by giving me a surprise Cats the musical themed birthday cake! To say I was impressed would be an understatement. Cats has been my favourite of all shows since I was six and although you might not think a black cake would be appealing, I thought it looked gorgeous!
My Theatre Diary