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“I made a phone call and asked for help,” says Lloyd Webber.“It was one of those things – would [the great Cats anthem] Memory have been what it is if that hadn’t happened?One poem introduced Grizabella the Glamour Cat, a tale Eliot had thought too sad for children.Another told the story of the Pollicle dogs and Jellicle cats – names Eliot used to poke fun at the Kensington gentry’s habit of referring to “poor little dogs” and “dear little cats” – who eventually all got into a big balloon and flew up to “the Heaviside Layer”.It seems fitting that Lloyd Webber should return to a show that proved a game-changer for him (and made him a millionaire).
Some critics felt Lynne’s choreography didn’t match up to the complexity of Eliot’s poems or Lloyd Webber’s eclectic score.
He told them: “Fifty per cent of the world loves cats and 50 per cent of the world hates them and I’m very happy to only play to 50 per cent of the world.” But they weren’t convinced. In the end, Lloyd Webber and producer Cameron Mackintosh could only raise enough money to cover half the budget and the composer was forced to stump up £75,000 himself, taking out a second mortgage on his house to do so. Judi Dench, who had been cast as faded glamour puss Grizabella, snapped her Achilles tendon and pulled out.
Elaine Paige, who had starred in Lloyd Webber’s previous musical Evita, to great acclaim, was hurriedly drafted in.
Standing in the wings at the New London Theatre on a spring night in 1981, the composer Andrew Lloyd Webber watched the first preview of his latest musical and asked himself whether he might have gone mad.
Slinking and sliding around the stage were a company of young actors dressed as cats, complete with skin-tight Lycra and leg warmers, singing lyrics by arguably the most impenetrable poet of the 20th century. “Everybody in the West End thought we were completely and utterly crazy,” Lloyd Webber says now, chuckling.