Before the official trailer for “Cats”– a big-screen all-star adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber‘s record-breaking 1981 stage musical — pounces upon the general public on Friday, Universal dropped a bit of catnip in the form of a behind-the-scenes tease this week.
Academy-Award-winning director Tom Hooper (“The King’s Speech”), who oversaw the cinematic version of another Broadway tune-filled sensation, 2012’s “Les Miserables,” is calling the shots. Given that the adaptation led to eight Oscar nominations and three wins, including a supporting trophy for Anne Hathaway, “Cats” seems to be in good hands.
The well-bred cast seems to be designed to appeal to every movie-going demographic from around the globe. The troupe includes Taylor Swift as Bombalurina, James Corden as Bustopher Jones, Rebel Wilson as Jennyanydots, Jason Derulo as Rum Tum Tugger, Idris Elba as Macavity, Ian McKellen as Gus the Theatre Cat and Judi Dench as Old Deuteronomy. As for who won the lottery to sing the sob-fest anthem “Memory,” it is none other than Jennifer Hudson — she who won an Oscar in “Dreamgirls” for growling her way through “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” — as Grizabella the Glamour Cat, who is shunned by her fellow felines in the Jellicle tribe.
Speaking of Oscars, Webber is of course writing new awards-bait numbers for the movie. There seems to be some consternation out there that the fur-bearing actors will be shrunk down to cat size through the magic of CGI, perhaps a little too kitschy when it comes to humans pretending to be kitties. However, the cast seems to be taking this pet project very seriously, at least judging from their remarks about their ties to music in the featurette.
Purrs Hudson: “My connection to the arts is music. I grew up singing in the church. That’s how we communicate and relate.”
Meows Swift: my favorite thing is getting to be theatrical, to tell a story, and I always brought that narrative element to my live shows. She later says, “This musical is timeless.”
Hisses Derulo: “I was obsessed with singing, I was obsessed with dancing. It started off with me dancing in the kitchen. I put my socks on, trying to do the moonwalk. And I think you need to choose something that you are so obsessed with. You just need to want to do it all the time.”
Turns out, Dame Judi was supposed to play Grizabella in the original London West End cast of the musical, but she had to drop out after snapping her Achilles’ tendon. “I thought that was my history with ‘Cats.’ But it turns out not to be.”
Meanwhile, Hooper mews-es that “Cats” is relevant to now, saying that it’s a “very timely story about the importance of inclusion and redemption.” He adds that “directing ‘Cats’ is like directing a group of word-class athletes.” How now is it. The choreography is being done by “Hamilton’s” Andy Blankenbuehler.
Corden, however, sums it up perfectly: “These are people but they’re cats. This is kind of blowing my mind.” Alas, no actual fur-bearing actors are shown. I guess they are saving that for the trailer.