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Review: Cats at Sunderland Empire

NOT being a huge musical fan, there are several Andrew Lloyd Webber “biggies” I’ve never seen, this – one of his longest-ever running shows – being one of them.

NOT being a huge musical fan, there are several Andrew Lloyd Webber “biggies” I’ve never seen, this – one of his longest-ever running shows – being one of them.

It all opened promisingly enough: fairy lights strung across the auditorium and a great set for the scrap yard home of the moggies at the heart of this 80s (very 80s) show.

But once I’d admired all that and got the measure of an undoubtedly fine cast, there wasn’t much left to keep me interested.

And not knowing that the show (which is based on TS Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats) is all song with no spoken narrative, it needed – in order to make any sense – the kind of clarity of voice found in Claire Rickard as Jellylorum in the rather nice second act story about an old cat actor.

But on the whole the mish-mash of episodes about a tribe of Jellicle cats was a confusing blur of orange and brown as the cast in striped leotards and leg warmers – a bit like Fame only with tails – launched into overlong dance routines.

They were balletic, acrobatic, pretty much anything other than catlike and songs ranged from operatic to rocked-up. The (admittedly beautiful) Memory – sung here, under a full moon and glittering stars, by West End star Joanna Ampil in the Elaine Paige role of Grizabella – was about the only one I recognised.

I expected professional and the staging and cast delivered – the award-winning Cats has had, after all, 32 years to purr-fect its act.

You can’t fault the production so fans will no doubt enjoy the show but personally I feel it should have been quietly put to sleep years ago.

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