The original London production of Cats opened in the West End on 11 May 1981, after previews which began on 22 April 1981. It won numerous awards, including the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Musical. The production went on to run for exactly 21 years, closing on 11 May 2002 after playing 8,949 performances.
This production made Cats the longest running musical in the West End for over 17 years, from 12 May 1989 until 8 October 2006.
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 Lynne's Assistant: Chrissie Cartwright (1986-2002)
- Makeup Designer: Karen Dawson (1989-2002)
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". Additionally, 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 Eliot's wife, Valerie Eliot, who 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 March 1981 in London. 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 Ad-Dressing of Cats".
On 12 May 1989, Cats overtook Jesus Christ Superstar to become the longest-running musical in West End history with 3,358 performances. It closed on 11 May 2002 after playing 8,949 performances. The final performance was broadcast live on a large screen in Covent Garden for fans who could not acquire a ticket.
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 (due to last minute cast changes), and Bustopher Jones being played by the same actor as Old Deuteronomy, not Gus as is convention 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 number, 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 biggest changes after that point was the character "George" being cut in 2001. The London production also notably introduced spoken dialogue in its later years so as to explain the story more clearly.
Original London Cast (in alphabetical order)
The original cast included Dame Judi Dench in the roles of Grizabella and Jennyanydots, and Les Saxon as Mungojerrie. It also included four unnamed characters credited as "The Kittens". These kittens would eventually be given the names Admetus, Bill Bailey, Electra, and Etcetera. 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 (presumably she would originally have appeared only for her song, much as Bustopher Jones does) played by Myra Sands. The costume design now recognised as Jennyanydots' basic, was originally labelled "Electra" as that was the name of the role Myra Sands was originally cast in, though this Electra is not the same as the eventual kitten character. At some point before opening night, John Thornton also replaced Les Saxon as Mungojerrie. Because John Thornton was originally slated to play Admetus / Macavity, the character of Admetus was cut and Mungojerrie became Macavity's double track instead. The name Admetus was later given to one of the kitten characters.
Further Cast Lists
For complete London Casts see here.
Final Cast, May 2002
- Original London Cast Recording, released 1 July 1981
Extensive galleries available year by year
New London Theatre
- Peter Hepple - The Stage: "With Andrew Lloyd Webber's 'Cats', the British musical has taken a giant leap forward, surpassing in ingenuity and invention anything Broadway has sent us ... a brilliant show".
- Michael Billington - The Guardian: "CATS at the New London is an exhilarating piece of total theatre".
- Robert Cushman - The Observer: "'Cats' isn't perfect. Don't miss it."
Awards and Nominations
- Main article: Awards
1981 Laurence Olivier Awards
- Best New Musical - Won
- Outstanding Achievement in a Musical - Gillian Lynne - Won
- Actor of the Year in a Musical - Brian Blessed - Nominated
- Actor of the Year in a Musical - Wayne Sleep - Nominated
- Designer of the Year - John Napier - Nominated
- Director of the Year - Trevor Nunn - Nominated
1981 Evening Standard Theatre Awards
- Best Musical - Won
1982 Ivor Novello Awards
- Best British Musical - Won
- Best Song Musically and Lyrically - Memory - Won
1983 Grammy Awards
- Best Cast Show Album - OLC recording - Nominated
- The premiere was interrupted by a bomb hoax.