Broadway has long been a cornerstone of creativity. Whether it’s a reimagined Hakuna Matata in The Lion King, the Wicked Witch defying gravity in Wicked or a hip-hop history lesson in Hamilton, the stage has produced varying levels of live performance.
And then there’s Cats.
The decision to adapt Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1981 musical has always been a strange one, for reasons both practical and creative. With the original production having actors dressed as literal cats, it could be hard to find the best way to portray the roles while still serving some sense of realism. Add the need to alter the settings and songs for a feature format and you’re left with a tough decision.
Yet that decision seemed to be easy for the crew of Cats, which assembled an Avengers-esque cast with the likes of Judi Dench, Idris Elba, Ian McKellan and Taylor Swift to sing and dance as felines. However, in a musical that substitutes plots for introductions (aside from its best known song, Memory), the lack of a proper film transition is evident—including in reviews, where the film currently sits at an abysmal 16% on Rotten Tomatoes.
This is a problem that could’ve been avoided. In almost 40 years, no one has gotten far enough along with an adaptation of Cats to abhor audiences with it. Yet Tom Hopper, the director of the acclaimed The King’s Speech (it won three Oscars! Including Best Director!), chose to guide this project to the bitter end, not realizing the possibility that there may have been reasons for why this film never saw its feature debut.
It’s not to say that no version of Cats could have made it to the big screen. There have been multiple ways for stage productions to be broadcast in theaters, both through distributors Fathom Events and even large production companies buying the rights. In 2018, a live stage showing of Hamilton went through a bidding war among major studios in the hopes of making it to theaters by next year. While just an example of the alternatives, it shows that both Hopper and Universal Studios had ample time to find a way.
And that way could’ve just led back to the start: revive Cats on Broadway. The musical had always done wonders on the stage, with it ranking as the fourth-longest running Broadway production, so another run could’ve helped bolster its cultural standing. Coupled with a cast mixed with legends and newcomers (as opposed to altering a script to give a forgotten character and a new actress, something to do), the play could’ve achieved some form of greatness. Instead, we’re left with the film as is, with not enough lives to make it through it.