The original West End production of the musical Cats opened on the West End on May 11th 1981. It went on to run for 21 years, giving 8,949 performances and winning numerous awards. The production closed on May 11th 2002 on its 21st birthday.
This production made Cats the longest running musical on the West End until 8th October 2006, when it was surpassed by Les Miserables.
Composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Cats is based on T. S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats (1939), which the composer recalled as having been a childhood favourite. The songs of the musical comprise Eliot's verse set to music by the composer, the principal exception being the most famous song from the musical, "Memory ", for which the lyrics were written by director Trevor Nunn after an Eliot poem entitled "Rhapsody on a Windy Night". Also, a brief song entitled "The Moments of Happiness" was taken from a passage in Eliot's Four Quartets. Andrew Lloyd Webber began composing the songs in late 1977 and premiered the compositions at the Sydmonton Festival in 1980. The concert was attended by T.S. Eliot's wife, Valerie Eliot and she loved the songs that Webber had composed. She gave her blessing for the songs to be adapted into a musical stage play.
Rehearsals for the musical began in early 1981 at the New London Theatre. Due to the Eliot estate asserting that they write no script and only use the original poems as the text, the musical had no identified plot during the rehearsal process, causing many actors to be confused about what they were actually doing. An unusual musical in terms of its construction, the overture incorporates a fugue and there are occasions when the music accompanies spoken verse. The show is completely told through music with virtually no spoken dialogue in between the songs. Dance is also a key element in the musical especially during the 10-minute Jellicle Ball dance sequence.
The set, consisting of an oversized junk yard, remains the same throughout the show without any scene changes. Lloyd Webber's eclecticism is very strong here; musical genres range from classical to pop, music hall, jazz, rock and electro-acoustic music as well as hymnal songs such as "The Addressing of Cats".
As the original production, the London production was very much experimental in nature. As can be seen from the original cast list, quite a few of the show's tracks (roles) were different - such as Mungojerrie playing Macavity, and Bustopher Jones played by the same actor as Old Deuteronomy, not Gus as is conventional now. Several songs have also been modified or replaced completely since the opening of this production; most notably, Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer, originally a languid jazz numbe, has since been replaced by a more upbeat version seen in productions worldwide.
After its huge success, the show transferred to Broadway in 1982, where it was considerably overhauled, made brighter, more cheerful and family-friendly than the dark, exotic world created originally. Gradually, some of these changes filtered back to the London production, such as innovations in costume construction and revised arrangements and orchestrations. The London production served as the main influence on the video production, released in 1998. After the video production's release, further changes to the production were minimal; one of the most notable changes after that point was the character "George" being cut in 2001.
Original London Cast (in amphibolical order)The original cast included Dame Judi Dench in the roles of Grizabella and Jennyanydots, and Les Saxon as Mungojerrie. Judi Dench suffered a snapped Achilles Tendon in rehearsals, and had to be replaced, at very short notice, by Elaine Paige. This all happened during a crucial development point in the show's rehearsals, resulting in changes such as Jennyanydots becoming a full character (it is speculated that she would originally have appeared only for her song, much as Bustopher Jones does) played by Myra Sands. The costume design for recognisable as Jennyanydots' basic, was originally labelled "Electra", suggesting this is the role Myra Sands was originally cast in.
|Kitten (Admetus)||Steven Wayne|
|Alonzo / Rumpus Cat||Roland Alexander|
|Kitten (Bill Bailey)||Peter Barry|
|Asparagus / Growltiger||Stephen Tate|
|Kitten (Electra)||Anita Pashley|
|Kitten (Etcetera)||Julie Edmett|
|Jellylorum/Griddlebone||Susan Jane Tanner|
|Mungojerrie / Macavity||John Thornton|
|Old Deuteronomy / Bustopher Jones||Brian Blessed|
|Quaxo / Mistoffelees||Wayne Sleep|
|Rum Tum Tugger||Paul Nicholas|
|The Cats Chorus (Booth singers)|| Nick Hamilton
For further London Casts see here.
Final Cast, May 2002
Original Team (1981)
Director: Trevor Nunn
Choreographer / Associate Director: Gillian Lynne
Assistant Choreographer and Choreographer for Wayne Sleep's Tap Solo: Lindsay Dolan
Set / Costume / Makeup Designer: John Napier
Lighting Designer: David Hersey
Sound Designer: Abe Jacob
Production Musical Director: Harry Rabinowitz
Dance Captain: Jo-Anne Robinson
Artistic Coordinator / Gillian Lynnes Assistant: Chrissie Cartwright (1986-2002)
Makeup Designer: Karen Dawson (1989-2002)
Awards and Nominations
- Laurence Oliver Award - Best New Musical - Won
- Laurence Olivier Award - Outstanding Achievement in a Musical - Gillian Lynne - Won
Early Years 1981 - 1982