T.S. Eliot's poetry musicalised by Andrew Lloyd Webber is more than a hit; at twenty-five it's a theatrical landmark. The story is, as with many musicals, incidental. What the show's all about is a celebration of athletic dance, dazzling songs and energetic fun.
There is a skeletal storyline: The Jellicle Cats meet once a year to decide who amongst them will be chosen for rebirth. The merits of the nominees are discussed, with the most deserving kitty chosen to journey to 'The Heaviside Layer'.
The language of dance and the visual spectacle that drives Cats accounts for much of its success, Gillian Lynne's choreography for the slinky, sensual felines perfectly executed. Teamed with John Napier's inspired design, the stage transforms into a garbage dump littered with old junk; the cat playground a habitat of discovery to explore and use creatively which brings the audience wholly into the imaginary realm of musical make-believe.
The ensemble harmonies and choreography are spellbinding but where Cats falls flat is in some of the anachronous, smaller arrangements leading to more than a few moments which drag. The melding of feline fun and celebration with the philosophical, poetic irony leads to a show that doesn't ebb and flow but rises and slumps, despite Trevor Nunn's impeccable direction.
Yet although at times it falls into repetition it's impossible not to marvel at the demanding, pulsing athleticism which has a ripple effect on the eager audience, thrilling young and old alike. This new tour has the addition of more playfulness, including lots of wink-winking at the assemblage, delivered by smooth-purring stud Rum Tum Tugger (Stuart Ramsay), who gives a drolly saucy performance which is easily the most crowd pleasing.
Musical highlights are showstopper ‘Memories' performed elatedly by Chrissie Hammond, her raspy, haunting vocals seeping with emotion, and the fairytale-esque ‘Mr. Mistoffoles' which you'll be humming for days. Although this is nothing new and just another run-of-the-mill tour there's still plenty to enjoy through the company's sharp presentation with every facet exuding energy and theatricality.
Show times: Cats is at the Edinburgh Playhouse until 27 October (daily 7.30pm, and matinees at 2.30pm). Tickets are £13.50 - £33.50.