Helping hands of Madalena:
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.
Inspired by a play of the 1920s based on crime reporting, in 1975 the musical play Chicago debuted on Broadway in New York City.
Created by John Kander, Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse, the musical play is a satire on crime and on celebrity criminals. In 1926, a play was done based on the trials of Beulah Annan and Belva Gaertner, who were accused of murder.
The trial was the focus of all the newspapers and radio and was documented extensively by reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins, whose articles were then turned into a play.
Fosse and his wife Gwen Verdon wanted to buy the rights to the play, but were refused and only got the rights when Watkins died in 1969.
Opening at the 46th Street Theatre, the play starred Gwen Verdon, Chita Rivera, Jerry Orbach and Barney Martin as the leads. Verdon played Roxie, who kills her lover after a fight, while Rivera played Velma, who kills her cheating husband and his mistress, her sister.
The play’s choreography by Fosse is stereotypically his style, and has become one of his best known creations.
Orbach played Billy Flynn, the lawyer who transforms Roxie and Velma into celebrities during their trials to win sympathy from the judge and jury, while Martin plays Roxie’s ignored husband Amos.
Opening in 1975, the musical ran until 1977, while debuting on London’s West End in 1979. Revived in 1996 on Broadway, the play is the second longest running Broadway show, behind Phantom of the Opera.
Revived on London’s West End stages, the play also became a film for a second time in 2002. The first film was a silent film done in 1927 after the completion of the trials. Although the obsession of celebrity may be new, its decades old as Chicago illustrates.
The iconic song of the mid 1980s may be attributed to Simple Minds, but its also the opening and closing song of the popular film The Breakfast Club: Don’t You (Forget About Me).
Written by Keith Forsey and Steve Schiff, the song was first offered to The Fixx, then Brian Ferry and Billy Idol, who all declined to record it for the film soundtrack.
Forsey approached Simple Minds, who said no, but after speaking to their record label A&M, reworked and recorded the song in less than three hours.
The film and album was released in February 1985, and with the success of the John Hughes film, a video by Daniel Kleinman was made to support the soundtrack’s first single, Don’t You (Forget About Me).
The song became the only one of the soundtrack to hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 as well as the band’s first number one single in the US. The song hit top 10 status in over 10 countries including, Canada, New Zealand, Italy, Ireland, Germany, Belgium and Australia, and stayed on the UK charts from 1985 until 1987.
Although it wasn’t a song written by or even in the same style as most of the band’s previous and consequent songs, Don’t You (Forget About Me), is the one that is the most memorable for many fans of Simple Minds.