I was just a wide-eyed kitten when I acquired my first memory of the musical phenomenon that is Cats right here in the Blackpool Opera House in 1989.
The sheer power, fluidity and emotion of the piece left me obsessed with musical theatre and filled with the desire to run and stage and join in.
Fortunately for the listening public, I made do with a mug bought by my mum from the merchandise stall instead – which I still have to this day.
Just last week the handle broke off, which seemed symbolic in the week Cats and I returned to the Opera House. (yes, I bought a new one)
I wasn’t sure if this performance, starring Jane McDonald as the downtrodden glamour puss Grizabella, could be as magical as I remembered but as soon as the audience started to be seated and the astonishing set revealed in all its glory, it became clear we were in for a special night.
The joy of Cats is the attention to detail.
The mannerism and habits of our feline friends are brought joyously to life through the physical theatre of the characters, as soon as they have slunk and leapt on to the stage via the multiple entrances on the set, cracks in the rock and boulders plus padded past the audience as we settled in our seats.
Based on TS Eliot’s ‘Old Possum’s book of practical cats’, it tells the story of a series of cat characters, and is entirely told through and uninterrupted sequence of dance and song.
This production is as captivating and engaging as ever, it really is difficult to know where to look as the Cats bound on the stage. Both emotional and uplifting, the power of the music and lyrics takes the audience on a ride through the world of Jellicle cats and the personalities within that.
Although the amazing set seems similar to my hazy recollections of 1989, this production has most certainly been refreshed and updated.
I certainly don’t remember the enigmatic Rum Tum Tugger performing a rap, but here is with Jack Butterworth nailing the role of wowing the lady cats, the crowd-pleasing Harry Styles character of the feline world.
My old favourite, Mr Mistofolees, played by Mark John Richardson, was also once again a highlight.
But back to the star of this production, Jane McDonald.
The star of the Cruise and more recently daytime TV’s Loose Women, she has a lot to live up to as Grizabella, following in the footsteps of the Elaine Page and more recently TV darling Nicole Scherzinger.
Towards the end of the second half I was unsure if Jane was overplaying the downtrodden, quiet character of this washed up-feline.
But it became clear this was just part of the magic of the performance when in the second half, she opened her mouth to sing and almost literally brought the house down with her rendition of Memory rivalling any that have come before. The audience was on its feet and purring with delight.
This is a glorious, joyful show with a plethora of individually amazing performances and jaw-dropping choreography.
And I still wanted to run on stage and join in.