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It seems fitting that Lloyd Webber should return to a show that proved a game-changer for him (and made him a millionaire).
“To say that Cats literally changed all of our lives is absolutely true,” he says.
The show has grossed more than £1.7 billion worldwide – it has been a hit everywhere from Japan to Germany – and, at its closure, held the record for the longest-running musical on the West End (at 21 years) and Broadway (18 years).
Now, 12 years after the curtain went down on its 8,949th performance at the New London, the show is about to make a comeback.
“It’s much closer to lyrics, I think, than poetry.” The original plan was to turn the collection into a concert piece and it wasn’t until Lloyd Webber met Eliot’s widow, Valerie, that the seed of Cats as a musical was planted in his mind.
Slinking and sliding around the stage were a company of young actors dressed as cats, complete with skin-tight Lycra and leg warmers, singing lyrics by arguably the most impenetrable poet of the 20th century. “Everybody in the West End thought we were completely and utterly crazy,” Lloyd Webber says now, chuckling.
Memory, in particular, has become a songbook standard and has been covered by everyone from Barbra Streisand to Celine Dion. But Lloyd Webber was just the best-known name (at the time) in a group of young, talented people who made the show a success, including Mackintosh, Nunn, Lynne and performers such as Paige, Wayne Sleep, Bonnie Langford, Paul Nicholas and Brian Blessed.
The show also had a great, if accidental, lyricist.
After Harry Hill’s X Factor musical, I Can’t Sing, was closed after just two months earlier this year, the London Palladium – which Lloyd Webber owns – was left with an opening in the run-up to Christmas.
Lloyd Webber talked to director Trevor Nunn, costume designer John Napier and choreographer Gillian Lynne, all of whom worked on the original production, and after securing their agreement, announced the foursome were reuniting to stage a revival of the show at the Palladium for a limited 12-week run.