Posts Tagged ‘cats





Lunchbox Theatrical Productions, David Atkins & Base Entertainment Asia

in association with The Really Useful Group

QPAC Lyric Theatre

January 29 – February 14 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward



(Or: When audiences and critics are baffled by a show’s long-running runaway success).

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s CATS is one of the most successful musicals ever, and probably one of the the most loathed. If you’ve never seen it before there’s probably still a lot to love but for audiences who have seen one or more earlier productions, this is not the one that surpasses them.

My earliest memories of CATS echo the delights of the children seeing this latest touring production, which comes to us from London Palladium. I think the harshest critics, especially those of us who have had to sit through this show more than once, forget that everything is always new to somebody. I grew up on a steady diet of Lloyd Webber, Rogers & Hammerstein and Sondheim so I’m not actually one of the harshest critics. Nostalgia always counts for something, doesn’t it? When I first saw CATS (I was still in primary school) I was full of wonder and curiousity, intrigued by the ramshackle junkyard setting and the feline beauty of the performers in their costumes and makeup to suit each unique character. We got to traverse the stage during Interval and relived moments from the show for years afterwards. I adored the sass of Mr Macavity, the magic of Mr Mistoffolees, and the abject despair that gives way to a tiny glimmer of hope in Memory. And I loved the dancing. It’s a dance show after all; a dancer’s show.

I remember, as the lights dimmed, the thrill of hearing the first synthesised strains of the music, which we knew from wearing out the double cassette tape of the original London production soundtrack, and sensing before seeing them, cats of all colours and traits slinking through the audience, over seats and over people, purring and snuggling up to us as they made their way to the stage for the opening number. It was fantastic. We saw CATS return to Brisbane in 2010 – Poppy was four years old – and she loved it! I was underwhelmed. This time? We were both underwhelmed. Rather than write about it right away, I took off and did a show at Brisbane Powerhouse for the week before I could even think about assembling any thoughts about this production of CATS.


CATS remains one of the most rigorous shows in which a performer can be involved, and for dedicated dancers it’s great work if you can get it. (This ensemble is terrific, clear characters, solid dance and vocal parts on point). But for many of us it’s a show that’s become lost in glossy global marketing genius and the popular belief that such a long-running show must be good. This is what’s good about CATS –

  • if you’re a cat-lover it’s about cats
  • the dancing and random acrobatic feats are still impressive, despite the distinct Rock Eisteddfod feel to ensemble numbers
  • the music, despite being more Flashdance than contemporary dance, is still memorable
  • the individual cats are all unique creatures and if the lack of plot bothers you a good comparative study can be made from carefully observing the behaviour (and costume and makeup) of each
  • the same can be said of the lights. Lots of lights to count…
  • the set is still interesting, spilling out into the audience space.

This is what’s (still) diabolically bad about CATS –

  • if you’re not a cat-lover it’s about cats
  • there is a distinct Rock Eisteddfod feel to ensemble numbers
  • there is not much of a plot andThe Awful Battle of The Pekes and The Pollicles is still…awful
  • the clunky mechanics of the UFO-looking platform that ascends with Grizabella would be better placed in a high school production. When it grows up this piece of equipment might be seen in a Katy Perry or Pink concert.
  • this time there is no Coca-Cola can in the set. Does anyone else miss the Coca-Cola can? I miss the Coca-Cola can.
  • star casting, complete with contemporary pop voice does not a Grizabella make
  • by far the greatest creative crime, Rum Tum Tugger has been slaughtered and hung out to dry like a crow, warning other ambitious all-singing, all-dancing boys to stay away from this role in this production.




Delta Goodrum is an elegant, once decadently languorous, now legendary Grizabella, shunned by all, and her Memory, although beautifully, powerfully delivered, is marred by her ceaseless distracting wandering and preceded by an interpretative dance that has, unfortunately, missed the kind strike of the red pen. I love Delta (my goodness, she’s so lovely on stage, that smile!), but her Grizabella not so much.


And as hard as Daniel Assetta tries to sell his Rastafarian rapping Rum Tum Tugger, my guess is that it will never win over Australian audiences. Did it wow the West End? I wonder. How could anyone possibly imagine that anything would top the sultry, sexy-as-fuck rock star we remember so, er, fondly, from previous productions??? I can’t wait to see Assetta in a role he can get his teeth and…never mind what else…into.

Christopher Favaloro shines as the leaping, twirling Mister Mistoffelees, but somebody has maybe been a little over zealous with the fire pots???


Matt McFarlane – what a gorgeous voice and a commanding presence – does a fine job of narrating the non-existent narrative as Munkastrap (Oh yes, I know, sure, for the sake of the argument, there is a synopsis, which makes vague sense as long as you’re paying attention and bearing in mind the entire concept came from a collection of poems). Josh Piterman is our other standout, in the multiple roles of Bustopher Jones, Gus & Growltiger. As Gus the theatre cat, Piterman offers a beautifully measured, nuanced performance in the tradition of the great storytellers of the British stage. I actually want to give him a hug and find his slippers for him and settle at his feet to hear more. Later, as Growltiger he sells a dramatic Italian moment, one of the highlights of the night.

Despite the few attempts to update the production, CATS stubbornly remains deeply entrenched in an awkward late seventies-early eighties time warp and if you hated it before you’ll be more than a little bemused by this production. But maybe, just maybe, THINK OF THE CHILDREN. Bite your tongue, take the kids and be prepared to suffer a little in your lycra and leg warmers.

As an exercise in suspended disbelief, this show has always been for advanced theatre-goers (or the perfectly naive), but it’s not the worst musical in the world and as a little family outing, CATS is still a bit of fun.   



CATS – the arena spectacular spectacular









The closest I will ever get to playing a cat.



Harvest Rain Theatre Company

Brisbane Convention Centre

July 4 – 6 2014


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward


When CATS first opened in Australia none of the members of this production’s mass ensemble were born. (When it opened in London I *might* have been just born. Alright, I *might* have been in preschool already but let’s not think too long about that).


CATS has been performed in over 20 countries and in over 250 cities.


The song Memory has been recorded by over 150 artists.


1700 meters of lycra and 2000 metres of faux fur were used to create the costumes.


Over 3000 pots of Kryolan make-up were used to create the make-up designs.


The dance floor comprises over 500 pieces weighing over 10 tonnes.


Over 1500 young performers auditioned for the mass ensemble and 800 were chosen.


The mass ensemble rehearsed on weekends for 6 months and the professional cast rehearsed for 3 weeks.


70 individual body mics were used in this production.


There are over 400 lights in the rig and over 400 stage management cues to call.




This is the second largest production of CATS ever! (The largest featured over 3000 cats in London in 2013). That makes it the largest production ever staged in the Southern Hemisphere. I think I’ve finally worked out Harvest Rain’s caper.




They’ve certainly proved with this super-sized production that they have the team to pitch something!


With more than #800cats on stage in the Brisbane Convention Centre, including a heap from the Sunshine Coast (and you know I know that drive! Well done, Mums and Dads!). At times it felt like we were caught in a musical epic about the bubonic plague, as hundreds and hundreds of cats swarmed into the space, looking for the first few moments more like rats than cats, upon a ship’s deck, which indeed, seemed to be where we were meant to be. That’s right. No garbage heap here. I actually overheard somebody explaining to his companion that the original had been staged on a rubbish heap and I was suddenly reminded that THERE ARE PEOPLE IN THE WORLD WHO HAVEN’T YET SEEN CATS. I KNOW.


I remember the first time I experienced CATS, at QPAC’s Lyric Theatre in 1989 (the Australian and New Zealand tour), in which Trevor Green played Skimbleshanks to great acclaim. We were sitting next to Trevor on opening night of Harvest Rain’s CATS and I thought I noticed the same consternation on his face that I too was feeling during Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat, as the pace began to lag a little. Perhaps it was a trick of the light; Jason Glenwright’s rock star lighting design is a show unto itself! Anyway, what I remember most about that first experience was that the cats actually came through the stalls, purring and climbing all over us! Also, we were allowed on stage at Interval to see the set up close. Unheard of! Years later, Sam played Old Deuteronomy in a local production with Nathanael Cooper as Munkastrap. (Nathanael would probably prefer you didn’t know about that but I’m telling you because he did real GOOD!), and I’ll never forget my first singing teacher, Judy, who wore face paint and cute little cat ears to sing Memory at a closing night party at our place in Buderim. I think it was after a very successful Buderim run of Waltzes From Vienna.


These cats did not disappoint either, settling into various reposes upon the floor and on the stairs at points throughout the show when not dancing, keeping character all the while and delighting patrons with their cheeky grins and fabulously feline characters, upheld by all within my scope at least. Paired with the synchronised moggie moves of over 800 performers, including fifteen or more legit tap dancers, it’s a totes impressive effort!


MD Maitlohn Drew leads a confident lot of cat wig clad musos, and the music, which is usually easy to get sick to death of – c’mon, be real, it is – was actually really enjoyable. I even loved lots of little moments largely because of the music. Mostly, if I’m completely honest, I ACTUALLY LOVE CATS. I love CATS because of Sarah Brightman, Elaine Paige, Macavity the Mystery Cat and RUM TUM TUGGER. Unfortunately, HR’s Rum Tum (Ethan Jones) gave us more Ty Noonan than Mick Jagger and you know I’m a big fan of Ty’s stuff but it has its place, and it’s place is not in Lloyd Webber’s CATS. (WE LOVE YOU, TY!). That’s not to say that Jones disappointed anybody else on opening night – he was a hit! Mungojerrie (Callan Warner) and Rumpleteaser (Hannah Crowther), though a bit breathless, wowed us with their acrobatic song and dance routine and it’s testament to Harvest Rain’s training program that these two – two of the strongest of the core ensemble, along with Munkastrap (Dean Vince), Mr Mistoffelees (Stevie Bishop) and Jennyanydots (Astin Blaik) – are stand outs in terms of their performance flair, energy and vocal and physical prowess. (It should be noted that I felt Jones redeemed himself in his rich contribution to Magical Mr Mistoffelees). CATS is considered a dancers’ show, sure, but it’s a much more entertaining dancers’ show when the dancers can hold a tune and convey character.


Steven Tandy makes a delightful Bustopher Jones and a lovable Gus. Our leading lady of musical theatre, Marina Prior, is an apt choice for Grizabella, giving the famous role a beautiful blend of fragility and fallen grace, not to mention making a pristine appearance in her Wheels & Dollbaby at the after party.





Choreographer and Director, Callum Mansfield has always worked meticulously and he had his work cut out for him on this one – we know that CATS is really the choreographer’s show – and word is that Mansfield started work on this production a year ago. Actually, Mansfield choreographed Harvest Rain’s 2007 production of CATS, at their teeny tiny Sydney Street theatre in New Farm, with Designer Josh McIntosh and Producer, Tim O’Connor. Mansfield was 17 years old. During that original run he’d said, “For a choreographer and dancer, Cats is THE dream gig. It’s athletic, energetic and joyful and it’s a challenge to ensure that the choreography reflects the feline movements of the characters while also communicating with the audience.” He also played Mr Mistoffelees in that production. We can only imagine his horror delight when O’Connor suggested staging the show again but this time, on a much larger scale! This time Mansfield says (and this I LOVE), “…here was my chance to provide 800 young performers with the same kind of opportunity that was given to me. Whether they were eight or eighteen years old, I set out to make this experience an enjoyable journey of music, dance and storytelling that would solidify their passion for performing and help them on their way.”


Mansfield has BOOKS of choreography – I’d love to see those – and this time he engaged two assistant choreographers (Jennifer Miller& Courtney Underhill), and thirty-nine dance captains to lead the mass ensemble in “tribes” of different colours. Wow! And yikes! And it’s because of these sorts of logistical nightmares that no one else comes close to even attempting anything of the size and scale of this production. I’m not even joking about the Olympics’ bid.


I’m actually convinced now that Harvest Rain can (and will) do anything.


Look, if you hate CATS you would still have hated it after seeing this production – just face it, you’re a Hater and not even Harvest Rain’s eight million cute kids in furry costumes can cure you – it’s still a whimsical non-story using the poems by T.S. Eliot in Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, about a bunch of cats with human qualities who come together for the Jellicle Ball, the cat event of the year, akin to Damien Rossi’s Oscars’ party, obviously, during which (the Jellicle Ball, not the Oscars’ party), one cat will be chosen to become elevated to somewhere vaguely above us. Of course that cat is Grizabella, an outcast and set up beautifully to be the underdog who comes out on top, literally, disappearing via smoky scaffolding into the mystical realm of the Heaviside Layer. The tales within the tale are beautifully realised, allowing for the most plot-like non-plot I’ve seen in a production of CATS.




Apparently, without Marina Prior signing on as the Glamour Cat, this production would never have gone ahead, and whether or not her star power has attracted just as many audience members as family members of the kids involved, what it does do is this – it reaffirms Harvest Rain as one of our premiere performing arts companies, giving them the sort of street cred that only Prior’s sort of star power can buy (check out the cast of Spamalot!), and it gives the younger members of the company a legit role model and mentor. Just as those of us who are *slightly older* looked to Sarah Brightman before her crazy-ass experimental pop chart electronica era (I saw her live on stage, y’all. She sang off key), these aspiring performers look to Marina and her industry peers. It’s obviously been such an awesome opportunity, on so many levels, to be part of Harvest Rain’s Wakakirri Creative Generation Arena Spectacular Spectacular Rock Challenge CATS! Congrats, all! I’m looking forward to seeing all your lovely new faces, although perhaps not all at once, on a stage somewhere again soon!




The Stars Shine Bright in Brisbane: Harvest Rain Season Launch 2014


Harvest Rain Theatre 2014 season launch

QPAC Playhouse

18th  November 2013

Attended by Meredith Walker


Harvest Rain stars shine in 2014


After 18 days of social media clues, Harvest Rain Theatre Company revealed its 2014 season in an all-singing, all-dancing launch at QPAC’s Playhouse. For the company’s 2014 season, its first as a fully professional company*, Harvest Rain will be continuing what it does best, presenting a trio of big musicals featuring an impressive list of Australian stars. The season features a golden oldie, a modern Broadway classic and a Broadway hit musical, ranging from the sublime to the silly, but all with promise of maximum entertainment.


Harvest Rain is fast developing a reputation for effectively reviving and recreating the classics.


The company’s 2013 Oklahoma proves that classic musicals can still be popular and the company aims to recapture the magic when it reintroduces the delightful musical Guys and Dolls to a modern audience in March.  After their acclaimed performances in Oklahoma, Ian Stenlake and Angela Harding will reteam in the show and the audience was reminded of their vocal talents, including through Stenalke’s dynamic performance of Luck be a Lady. The really big news, however, was that the company has recently signed Gold Logie winner Daryl Somers to play Nicely Nicely Johnson, a role made famous on the Australian stage by the late Ricky May. And Somers was in full schick mode as he hammed it up about his preparation for the weighty role. Auditions for professional ensemble roles are to be held in December.


Image by Nick Morrissey


Everyone is invited to the Jellicle Ball when the company presents Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats in an arena spectacular style show at the Brisbane Convention Centre for five performances in May. With over 500 performers taking to the stage, Cats promises to be a glorious production of immense scale. Indeed, it will be the largest production of Cats ever staged in the southern hemisphere. While the whimsical cats shone both on stage and as they slinked about the post-launch function, the highlight was undoubtedly headliner Marina Prior’s goosebumpy performance of Memory, the show’s haunting anthem.


Audiences are guaranteed a good time when Simon Gallaher and Jon English reunite thirty years after their Pirates of Penzance romp for the Tony Award winning Monty Python musical Spamalot, based on the cult 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. After rousing renditions of Knights of the Round Table and Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, Lady of the Lake Julie Anthony revealed how she was coaxed out of retirement for the show, which will be staged in QPAC’s Concert Hall in October.


Harvest Rain has not only earned its place at QPAC, but its energetic approach to theatre making makes its works valuable resources for school groups. Indeed, shows such as Cats, provide an exciting access point to for school students to engage with a classic text, wether that text be Andrew Lloyd Webber’s beloved musical or its genesis, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Elliot, in a welcoming context. Not only this, but the company offers students the opportunity to engage with the arts on a practical level though their musical theatre internship program, in keeping with its aim to nurture young artists in their passion for the performing arts. Harvest Rain will also be conducting auditions for the Cats youth ensemble in early December.


The Arts in Australian schools is at a turning point; Australian students now all have an entitlement to education in the five art forms – dance, drama, media arts, music and visual art.


Companies such as Harvest Rain, should be commended for the manner in which they encourage young people to participate in the Arts more fully and to understand how the arts provide unique and valuable ways of making meaning.


Harvest Rain’s motto for 2014 is ‘the stars shine bright in Brisbane’ and if the 2014 launch is any indication, this is indeed the case, as the company adds to their list of the acclaimed artists who have trodden the boards in a Harvest Rain show over the past three decades.


*In 2014, Harvest Rain is giving young amateur performers from across South-East Queensland the opportunity to take part in a large-scale arena presentation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s CATS, the largest production of the classic musical ever staged in the southern hemisphere.


Australia’s leading lady of musical theatre, Marina Prior, will star as Grizabella in this record breaking production, along with a core cast of professional musical theatre performers (auditions for the professional adult cast will be held in January 2014). Surrounding this cast will be a large youth ensemble made up of over 500 young amateur performers from across South-East Queensland.


If you want to be one of those young performers, then apply to audition today!


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