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Lloyd Webber's 'Cats' Can Now Prowl the House

October 22, 1998|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The feline musical that boasts it's going to run "now and forever" is hitting the small screen. "Cats," Andrew Lloyd Webber's Tony Award-winning musical, which has had audiences purring since 1981 in London and 1982 on Broadway, makes its home video debut Tuesday (PolyGram, $20). The musical, based on 14 poems from "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats" by T.S. Eliot, is also set to air on PBS' "Great Performances" on Nov. 2.

Originally, Universal had bought the rights to transform "Cats" into an animated musical feature. "Universal wanted to do it, but then there were three regime changes at Universal," says executive producer Gary Lucchesi, who is also president of Lloyd Webber's Really Useful Films.

"It got put on the back burner. We had retained the rights to do a live theater version. At a certain point, Andrew said he wanted to do it," he said.

Lucchesi acknowledges there was much discussion whether doing "Cats" for home video would hurt the box office of the international theatrical productions.

But, says Lucchesi, "we were inspired by the research that had been done especially with respect to such shows as 'Riverdance,' 'Lord of the Dance' and the 'Les Miz' concert video. All of those pieces actually helped the theatrical revenues."

Besides, says Lucchesi, a lot of people still haven't seen "Cats." "And there are a lot of people who have seen it who haven't seen it in a long time, so they can buy it and get to see Elaine Paige [reprising her role as Grizabella] sing 'Memory' so beautifully."

Besides Paige, this version stars Ken Page re-creating his Broadway role as the wise Old Deuteronomy and 90-year-old Oscar-winning John Mills as the sweet, elderly Gus the Theatre Cat. David Mallet ("Lord of the Dance") directed the production, which was filmed over 18 days on Super 16mm on a custom set at London's Adelphi Theater.

Lloyd Webber was finicky about how he wanted his "Cats" shot, say Mallet and Lucchesi. The composer insisted that there should be no audience. "If there is an audience, the cast plays differently," Mallet says. "They play to an audience and suddenly, the viewer is the intruder. This is done for you, the viewer at home."

The orchestra seats were removed from the theater to make room for cameras and other technical equipment. "We only used the theater as a space," Mallet says. "All the sound stages are out in Pinewood and that's about an hour and 20 minutes drive [from London]. A lot of the cast were also appearing at night in West End productions."

Lucchesi says that he thinks this "Cats" works much better than if it had been animated. "The idea of humans dressing up like cats is a very cool idea," he says. "In some ways, I would contend this version is the truest version of 'Cats' because the 'Cats' Andrew Lloyd Webber created is really about humans pretending to be cats as opposed to an animated version, which would seem more cartoony."

There are also numbers from "Cats"' performed in the video "Hey Mr. Producer" (Columbia TriStar, $25), which is due Tuesday. Staged at the Lyceum Theater in London, this all-star Royal Gala honors the 30-year producing career of Cameron Mackintosh and features scenes from his productions of "'Oklahoma!," "The Phantom of the Opera," "Miss Saigon" and "My Fair Lady."

Fans of Gilbert & Sullivan operettas will give three cheers and one cheer more for Acorn Media's delightful G&S boxed set ($60; $20 each) featuring Canada's acclaimed Stratford Festival productions of "The Mikado," "The Pirates of Penzance" and "Iolanthe." To order, call (800) 474-2277.

More serious theatergoers might want to check out Kino's latest release, "Clarence Darrow" ($25), which stars Henry Fonda in his remarkable performance as the famed lawyer. This one-man show penned by David Rintells originally aired on NBC in 1974. To order, call (800) 562-3330.

Warner Home Video has just released special digitally restored, wide-screen editions ($20 each) of three classic movies based on Broadway hits: 1955's "Mr. Roberts," and "Gypsy" and "The Music Man," both from 1962.

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