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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Jan 18, 2020


jennifer  hudson as grizabella in CATS

francesca hayward as VICTORIA

dame judi dench as OLD DEUTERONOMY

‘CATS’ is one of the most successful stage musicals in history. Andrew Lloyd Webber composed it based on the 1939 poems of T.S. Eliot in “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” that describes various kinds of cats. It has ran for more than 30 years and is currently the 4th longest running Broadway and West End show.

Actually, the appeal of the show to people who flock to it is a mystery to us (just like Starbucks) as it doesn’t really have a truly involving storyline.

Now, Tom Hooper, director of Oscar-winning hit films “The King’s Speech”, “Danish Girl” and “Les Miserables”, comes up with the Hollywood film version that has been ruthlessly vilified by most critics. It took us sometime before we finally got to see it but we’re glad it’s now extended on its second week in several theaters.

“Cats” is a sung-through musical about a tribe of felines known as the Jellicle Cats and how they make the Jellicle choice, deciding which cat will be lifted to the Heaviside Layer to get a new life. It then becomes a talent show where various cats do audition numbers to qualify.

It is all really very theatrical, so it’s hard to translate it into film, but Hooper did try his best and made lots of changes in his own screen version to make it a movie and not just a filmed staged play.

First, Old Deuteronomy, the leader of the tribe of the Jellicle Cats, used to be portrayed by male actors, like Ken Page (who starred in the first filmed version shot in a London theatre and released directly to video) and our very own Junix Inocian who did it in 2001 after he made a name for himself in West End as the Engineer in “Miss Saigon”.

Now, he is made a female played by Dame Judi Dench no less. It’s innovative, all right, but we don’t think Hooper made the right decision as Dench croaks her songs and not really sing it, just like Ian McKellen did as Gus, the Theater Cat.

 As she sung the final song on Trafalgar Square about a cat not being a dog, sa totoo lang, kami ang parang hirap na hirap para sa kanya. We know she and Sir Ian are respected names who can lend prestige to any film production, but they’re not really that wise a choice as singers.

The running time has also been drastically reduced. On stage, it runs for nearly three hours and even the first filmed version (which was released directly to video and which we saw in the U.S. with Elaine Page singing “Memory” as Grizabella) was more than two hours. The new film is only about one hour and 40 minutes as many song numbers have been justifiably condensed.

The movie is also not just confined on stage but is taken out, so we Mr. Skimbleshanks (Steven Macrae) doing his showstopping tap dance number on the railway (we can see the Big Ben from afar) and there’s also a scene showing Rebel Wilson as Jennyanydots and James Corden as Bustopher Jones on a barge on the Thames River after they were kidnapped by the villain, Macavity, who wants to be the chosen one.

His character is also introduced early on and is given more exposure to give the actually very thin storyline more conflict. He also abducts Old Deuteronomy and makes her walk the plank to drown in the Thames, to force her to choose him.

But the self-doubting magician Mister Mistofelees (Laurie Davidson) manages to save her in another showstopping sequence.

The biggest change is in making a white kitten named Victoria (played by talented newcomer Francesca Hayward) as the lead character. She is dumped by her owners into an alley inside a sack and gets introduced to a strange new world.

She’s a prima ballerina from the Royal Ballet and there’s a sequence where she is shown dancing around the room and the camera just follows her in one long lyrical take and her fluid, lithe, graceful moves are just a sheer delight to watch.

Sorry to say that Taylor Swift fails to impress us in the very minor role of Macavity’s gun moll, Bombalurina, whose only song number pays tribute to her scheming boss.

Jennifer Hudson scores better as Grizabella, the former glamour cat now avoided by other cats because of her shady past, but her rendition of the show’s most famous song, ‘Memory’, is not as impressive as what she did with “And I Am Telling You” in her Oscar-winning performance in “Dreamgirls”.

And sorry to JHud, each time she sings “Memory”, Victoria comes up to also sing “Beautiful Ghosts” (“All that I wanted is to be wanted”), the new song originally composed for the film version.

Honestly, we remember our own Dulce singing “Memory” on TV with a much more compelling build up (specially when she hit the high notes in “Touch meeeee”) and bombastic finish.

Still and all, we find the movie fairly entertaining with its superb production design and infectious dancing. Most haters say they feel that the creature design and anthromorphic look of the cats are weird, combining cat suits with CGI special effects to make them humanoid cats.

But why take the movie so seriously when cats don’t really talk, sing and dance in real life, so be willing to suspend some of your disbelief. We actually like their undulating tails when they move.

The movie is certainly not purr-fect, but it’s not a total cat-astrophe. It’s no “Sound of Music” or “Mamma Mia”, but we wish folks have given it more chance and not just quickly tore it into shreds. Maybe, they are just more dog persons. Meow!!!