Cats, the famed musical production from Andrew Lloyd Webber, is finally coming to movie screens, with Universal Pictures just announcing a Dec. 20, 2019, release date. Considering that the show was first staged way back in 1981 (two years before coming to Broadway), that’s a really long time to wait for an adaptation. Wicked — and its alternate take on the The Wizard of Oz — is reaching theaters in 2020, only 17 years after its debut. That’s like an express train in comparison!
Andrew, who was coming off of some pretty massive stage successes like Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita, took inspiration for the show from T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, crafting a story of a tribe of cats known as the Jellicles, and focusing on the night that one of them will be chosen to ascend to Heaviside Layer, to be reborn into a new life. Now cats, as we all know, have a mind of their own, so getting them to sing on cue night after night was pretty much an no-go from the start. Andrew’s solution? Dress people as felines and have them sell it to the audience. On the surface, pretty crazy, right? That’s something he certainly heard way back at the beginning from virtually everyone.
“I can give you the objections,” Andrew, 70, once told Smithsonian.com, “and they sound convincing: ‘Andrew Lloyd Webber without Robert Stigwood [the flamboyant impresario who had produced Superstar], without Tim Rice; working with a dead poet; with a whole load of songs about cats; asking us to believe that people dressed up as cats are going to work; working with Trevor Nunn from the Royal Shakespeare Company, who’s never done a musical in his life; working in the New London, the theater with the worst track record in London; asking us to believe that 20 English people can do a dance show when England had never been able to put together any kind of fashionable dance entertainment before.’ It was just a recipe for disaster. But we knew in the rehearsal room that even if we lost everything, we’d attempted something that hadn’t been done before.”
Needless to say, it all paid off. For starters, Cats gave us the enduring song “Memory,” it currently stands as the fourth-longest-running show in the history of Broadway, has been translated into more than 20 languages, in the year of its launch in London (1981) it took home a pair of Laurence Olivier Awards, and when it came to Broadway it won seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
And now there’s the movie, which is supposed to be directed by Tom Hooper, who filmed the adaptation of Les Miserables; with cast members talked about the past couple of years including Anne Hathaway, James Corden, Taylor Swift, and Sir Ian McKellan. All told, those promise to be some mighty interesting cats.