The early 1980s were all about felines, thanks to Andrew Lloyd Webber and T.S. Eliot with the debut of the musical play Cats on London’s West End.
Based on the book Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, Lloyd Webber and producer Cameron Mackintosh brought the story to the stage in 1981, with the tribe of cats called Jellicles, who are choosing which cat will come back in a new life.
With director Trevor Nunn and choregrapher Gillian Lynne, Lloyd Webber debuted the production at the New London Theatre in May 1981, using the original poems as text and creating songs based on the poetry, due to the restrictions of the Eliot estate on the use of the book’s text.
Dance became a key element of the play, with the set reflecting a junk yard and the songs an eclectic collection of pop, jazz, classical, rock and electronic musical styles.
Judi Dench was one of the principal actors in the West End production but due to an injury was replaced with Elaine Page. Major characters of the play included Alonzo, Grizabella, Griddlebone, Mister Mistoffelees, Jemima, Old Deuteronomy and Skimbleshanks.
Cats is the fourth longest running show in London’s West End, and debuting in 1982 on Broadway in New York City, it has become the third longest running show in Broadway history.
With several revivals and a film to its credit, Lloyd Webber’s creation although not conventional has become one of the favourite musicals of the latter 20th century for its inventiveness and dance sequences.