Cats and Andrew Lloyd Webber, the Royal Albert
Hall Celebration on DVD
By Jim Bray
Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats is billed as the longest running musical in Broadway
history, yet it's hard to see why.
Oh sure, its story about a collection of cats pussyfooting their way through
life is interesting enough, and the hit song "Memory" is indeed a wonderful
bit of musical theater. But there's something missing and it's really hard to
put your finger on what it is.
Still, you can't argue with its success, so maybe we just missed something
The musical is based on T.S. Eliot's "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats"
and marked the beginning (other than his record-based musicals) of Webber's
assault on the musical theater. Full of dance numbers, Cats opened on a shoestring
in London before coming to America and turning Broadway on its ear.
This Ultimate DVD is of a restaging of the stage production as shot for video
- so it isn't a TV production or a movie: it's a filmed play.
Not that there's anything wrong with that. You get to see close-ups of the
characters and their feline makeup that you wouldn't get otherwise and though
that's a double edged sword it's a sword we prefer.
You also get far better sound reproduction than you would sitting in the balcony
The sound is also a double edged sword, however as, thanks to the close-ups,
it's obvious that the cast is lip synching. Why? They didn't fake the dances
or the set?
Oh well. The sound is actually very good, as is the image. The liner notes
say this version was filmed over an 18 day period at London's Adelphi Theatre,
with an 80 piece orchestra mixed into stereo and full digital sound.
Well, it shows.
Unfortunately, the picture may have been shot at the 1.78:1 aspect ratio, but
the DVD is not - we repeat not! - anamorphic, so owners of widescreen TV's will
have to compromise the quality so it fills the screen. Too bad; other than that
it looks great.
Cats comes with plenty of extras, a whole second disc's worth. You get individual
interviews with Andrew Lloyd Webber, Cameron Mackintosh, Trevor Nunn, Gillian
Lynne, John Napier and Gerry Schoensfeld. There's also a feature on the cast's
makeup concepts, a "making of" feature, and a trailer for the Andrew Lloyd Webber
Andrew Lloyd Webber, the Royal Albert Hall Celebration
If you think Andrew Lloyd Webber's works are the cat's meow, you'll probably
love this lavish celebratory concert.
Shot at a 1998 concert marking the composer's fiftieth birthday, it's an all
star cast gala featuring numbers from most of his musicals stretching right
back to Jesus Christ Superstar and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
Here's a partial breakdown of the action:
Elaine Paige: "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina" (Evita) and "Memory" (Cats)
Michael Ball: "Gethsemane" (Superstar) and "Love Changes Everything" (Aspects
of Love) - the latter of which ends up being a full cast showstopper.
Donny Osmond: Any Dream Will Do (Joseph)
Also on hand are diva Kiri Te Kanawa, rock singer Bonnie Tyler, and Andrew's
brother Julian doing a wonderful rendition of Variations on the cello.
Possibly one of the best sections comes from Webber's ex-wife Sarah Brightman
as she performs a selection from The Phantom of the Opera (though a male phantom
should really have sung "Music of the Night.")
And if you think Antonio Banderas is only a hunk/lunk actor, check out his
performance from Evita, and don't miss Glenn Close as Norma Desmond performing
songs from Sunset Boulevard.
As you can see, it's a pretty broad tribute to a broad range of work, and there
are plenty of hits on hand.
As a DVD, the disc is excellent, though we would have preferred to see it shot
in anamorphic wide screen. It's TV-based fullscreen, alas, though the picture
quality is first rate. The audio, which is Dolby Digital 5.1 surround, is also
Extras include a tribute to the composer, which somehow rather strangely is
where the disc begins when you put it into your player, as well as a trailer
for the abovementioned "Spotlight" disc.
Tell us at TechnoFile what YOU think