Yesterday I went to see the musical Cats at the Mogador Theatre in Paris. I knew the main ideas of story already but I had never seen the show before. Here’s what I thought!
Cats the musical: the story
Once a year, a group of alley cats attend the Jellicle Ball: during this event, the clan’s chief chooses a cat who will have the honour of dying in order to be reborn from his ashes the very next day.
On the official Cats website (where I borrowed the photos for this article), they say that the Paris production is the same as the one in London. A lot of work was clearly put into the set: it is beautiful and full of details that make up the world of Cats very well in my opinion. The actors could climb up on it like cats so the stage and general space was well occupied.
Furthermore, the costumes are definitely worth a closer look: each feline’s fur is different from the next, making each of them into separate characters. The lighting effects were fun, creating cats’ eyes in the starry night sky. Some musical numbers were really something to behold: strong voices, fully mastered dance routines and fun or emotional songs.
What bothered me with Cats was the total lack of dialogue. The dance numbers come one after the other with next to no transitions between them, which made me impatient to get to the end so that something would actually “happen”. 80% of the songs were presentations of various members of the clan so that the audience would know a few different characters before the chief makes his choice at the Jellicle Ball. To be honest, I felt that it would have been sufficient to present three or four clan members. I didn’t like the fact that I felt like I was watching a lot of numbers made to “fill in” the middle of the show before finally getting to see the end of the story.
In my opinion, there was an unfortunate lack of consistency in the musical. I didn’t think Cats was a show specifically for children (although younger audience members can enjoy it too!) but after watching it live at the Mogador theatre I’m not so sure.
When I decided to go and see a show about dancing felines, I checked out all expectations of realism at the theatre door. But certain scenes were not just unrealistic (which I don’t mind) but downright ridiculous. A rock n’ roll cat raps his way through several uncomfortable minutes and an actor-cat remembers a play in which he fights underwater creatures that look like glittery Oompa Loompas.
A word on the translation from English to French: I was pleasantly surprised by the French lyrics. I was a little dubious as well as worried about hearing a lot of long awkward sentences but I really felt that it had been well translated over all.
I was impressed by Cats’ delicacy when addressing the topics of loneliness and old age. The old cat that sings the famous “Memories” song (that I love) sees youth and happiness as one and the same. She used to have a much simpler life, full of friends and beauty. Ridden with nostalgia for the past, the character loses her place in society: the other younger cats didn’t know her when she was young and beautiful and they are afraid of her ugliness. They don’t dare approach her and frequently hiss at her.
Cats has an almost spiritual approach of death that is presented as a great relief. I found it very interesting that dying is thought of as a new adventure: it reminded me of certain religious beliefs where life on Earth is just the first step before the next great adventure! In Cats, death is a source of joy! The clan member destined to die at the ball is the “Chosen One” and is considered as very lucky since he/she will have the chance to begin a new life.
To sum up: I didn’t appreciate Cats as much as I thought I would, but I enjoyed discovering the animals’ particular perception of dying. They are so sure of living nine whole lives that they welcome death with open arms. When watching the final scene, I thought about the current debates on euthanasia and the wish to leave this world on one’s own terms. Who would have thought that dancing cats would have made me think about medically assisted death!