The last few weeks have seen a flurry of casting news for a new movie based on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s T.S. Eliot-inspired musical about actual cats hanging out. It is both the most 2018 news to appear on the horizon and also the most 1981 news. Personally, I’m still trying to understand it!
Idris Elba is going to play a cat. As noted by Variety, he has twice been cast as a cat in films. He has also never been cast as James Bond. Jennifer Hudson is also going to play a cat. She will sing the show’s iconic song “Memory.” You will probably cry.
They will be joined by James Corden—which okay, that tracks. Ian McKellen is a little more surprising, but when I close my eyes I can see him smothered in grease paint, hair teased out a few inches from his face and hips moving in rhythm with the musical’s synth score. Same goes for Judi Dench—she was even in the original cast!
But Taylor Swift? This movie is getting made and Taylor Swift is appearing in it alongside a couple of Oscar winners, a late-night TV host, and the James Bond of my dreams?
Someone, preferably planned direct Tom Hooper, please explain to me how all of this casting went about, and how it’s expected to form into a cohesive vision that will not have us embarrassed for the cast. Is it live action? Animated? A mixture? Am I really going to have to watch these actors wear those ridiculous Cats costumes for two hours and cavort and clamor across a soundstage?
Look, I understand what the original musical is. I grew up in the 1980s and 90s as the daughter of a musical lover, and I also grew up in original Broadway cast member Betty Buckley’s home town. I’ve heard Cats, made jokes about Cats, and seen Cats at least three times. But that all happened before 2000, when the musical finally ended its tenure as one of the longest-running musicals on Broadway.
The world has changed! And not just the musical theater world, where Cats’ creator Andrew Lloyd Webber’s vise-like creative influence has finally diminished and other less synth-infused works have flourished. Adaptations of Disney films have supplanted Webber as the inspiration for the shows that open and never close on Broadway—there’s now a long line of children who have been given their first taste of theater by the lyricists of their parents’ own childhoods.
Cats, beyond its one show-stopper, has aged dramatically, and a show about a group of felines introducing themselves and trying to figure out who will be chosen to escape the mortal world via a tower of tires is maybe not appropriate.
At least...until I just summarized it and realized that perhaps it is appropriate. Watching a large group of actors not especially known for their dancing skills put on Spandex and dance and sing about cats’ lives and their desire to die might be the only way to explain the year 2018 to all future generations. This year of confusion, elation, and misery deserves to be explored through song and embarrassing performances.