A cast to die fur! Slink behind the scenes (and poetry) of Cats as stars including Taylor Swift, Idris Elba, Judi Dench and James Corden bring one of Britain's best-loved musicals to the big screen
As one of the most popular, and long-running stage musicals of all time, Cats has a legion of fans. And yesterday they were given the first glimpse of director Tom Hooper's big screen version of the Andrew Lloyd Webber (by way of T.S Eliot) musical.
A remarkable two-and-a-half minute trailer released by Universal Pictures and Working Title films is but a taster for the film in all it feline glory when it is released in December.
A TAYLOR-MADE ROLE: American pop star Taylor Swift leapt at the chance to play flirtatious Bombalurina (above), bounding from her Reputation tour into rehearsals. 'This is my calling in life,' she pronounced, excitedly, after landing the role. The singer has three cats and admits: 'I'm obsessed with them. I love my cats so much that when a role came up in a movie called Cats, I thought, like, I gotta do this'
Swift has spoken of going to ‘cat school’, where the cast learned how to create the emotion of cats. Bombalurina offers Swift the chance to show off her nifty dance moves
A VILLAIN WHO WAS TIPPED TO BE BOND: ‘Macavity’s a Mystery Cat: he’s called the Hidden Paw For he’s the master criminal who can defy the Law. He’s the bafflement of Scotland Yard, the Flying Squad’s despair: For when they reach the scene of crime — Macavity’s not there!’ From Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot. A dastardly criminal, villainous Macavity —with his hypnotic powers — inflicts chaos on the Jellicles and kidnaps their leader, Old Deuteronomy. Macavity is played by Luther star and recent Bond contender Idris Elba
PATRIARCH TURNS MATRIARCH: ‘Old Deuteronomy’s lived a long time; He’s a Cat who has lived many lives in succession . . .’
On stage the leader of the Jellicles, a mournful moggy named Old Deuteronomy, is a man, but for the movie version the role has gone to Dame Judi Dench. Back in 1981, Judi had been cast in the stage version as Grizabella, but had to bow out after injuring a tendon in rehearsals. Andrew Lloyd Webber visited her as she recovered in hospital (above)
Hooper will be hoping to mirror the success of Les Miserables, which was released in 2012 and earned £336 million and eight Oscar nominations, from which it won three.
The cast of characters in Cats was first brought to life by poet T.S. Eliot, in his 1939 book Old Possum's Book Of Practical Cats — nonsense verse tales written for his godchildren and based on his friends' cats.
The whimsical stories about whiskery creatures with names like Macavity, Mr Mistoffelees and Rum Tum Tugger has continued to delight generations of children and their parents.
The musical — set over a single night — revolves around this tribe of colourful kitties, called Jellicles (Eliot's word) who are preparing for a ball and an ensuing ritual in which one Jellicle (cats, of course, have nine lives) is chosen to ascend to heaven and become reborn.
CORDEN MOVES FROM CHAT TO CATS: ‘Bustopher Jones is not skin and bones — In fact, he’s remarkably fat. He doesn’t haunt pubs — he has eight or nine clubs, For he’s the St. James’s Street Cat!’ U.S. talk show king James Corden takes on the role of Bustopher Jones, a large upper-class moggy who —despite his aristocratic connections — is friendly with his counterparts living on the street
A COMIC TABBY TURN: ‘I have a Gumbie Cat in mind, her name is Jennyanydots; Her coat is of the tabby kind, with tiger stripes and leopard spots. All day she sits upon the stair or on the steps or on the mat; She sits and sits and sits and sits — and that’s what makes a Gumbie Cat!’
The loveable but lazy Jennyanydots is taken on by exuberant Australian actress Rebel Wilson, who raises laughs in the short trailer which sees her as a very voluptuous tabby
Andrew Lloyd Webber brought Cats to the stage, writing the musical version that first appeared at the New London Theatre in 1981, where it played for a record-breaking 21 years and 9,000 performances.
The Broadway production won seven Tony awards in 1983, including Best Musical, and ran for 18 years, taking more than $388 million at the box office.
Since its premiere, Cats has been performed in more than 30 countries, translated into 15 languages and seen by more than 73 million people worldwide.
Both the original London and Broadway cast recordings won Grammy Awards for Best Cast Album and the hit song Memory —sung by Elaine Paige playing Grizabella at the world premiere in London — has been recorded by more than 150 artists, including Barbra Streisand, Liberace and Barry Manilow.
Most of the song lyrics were adapted from Eliot's book and augmented with verses from his unpublished poetry, with additional words written by lyricist Richard Stilgoe and director Trevor Nunn.
But Lloyd Webber, who had to take out a second mortgage to bring his dream to reality, was by no means certain he was onto a winner.
'It was a very fraught, very risky venture with everybody thinking that we were absolutely stir crazy for doing it. That it was going to be the biggest disaster in the history of musical theatre,' he once said.
A KNIGHT ON THE TILES: ‘Gus is the Cat at the Theatre Door. His name, as I ought to have told you before, is really Asparagus. That’s such a fuss to pronounce, that we usually call him just Gus’. Distinguished thespian Sir Ian McKellen plays Gus the Theatre Cat, old and frail with shaking paws, but revered. His full name is Asparagus. Gus is always a tearjerker on stage, so Sir Ian is sure to make the role — on stage usually played by a chorus member — his own
THE SHOWSTOPPING GLAMOURPUSS: ‘Regard that woman who hesitates toward you in the light of the door which opens on her like a grin...’
Grizabella, the haunted puss who has seen better days, is portrayed in the film by Oscar-winning actress and singer Jennifer Hudson, who in the film trailer belts out a rousing version of Memory. Elaine Page originally played the role onstage, at short notice
'We never knew whether the public was going to love Cats until the moment we saw a cat go on stage. It could have been the most terrible moment in musical theatre. I remember sitting backstage waiting for the response. Somehow, we got away with it.'
Director Tom Hooper has some history in bringing long-running stage musicals to the big screen; he was responsible for giving us Hugh Jackman in Les Miserables.
He also directed dramas The King's Speech, for which he won an Oscar, and The Danish Girl.
Hooper contemplated whether the film could be made using computer-generated images or live action, or a combination of both.
In the end, all the cats in the movie are played by humans. But the very realistic fur that viewers of the trailer see? That's the work of a painstaking process by film technicians, who have added each actor's fur, frame by frame.
Hooper spent more than a year working out how to make his cats as feline as possible and in the end thousands of computer analysts on four continents were hired to apply 'digital fur'.
The trailer also reveals the production is cat-sized, with a giant set built to make the human cats look like, well — feline.