©The Bergen Record
Oct. 16, 1998
Stage To Screen
'Cats' Comes Alive on Video
By John Hartl
The daunting task of bringing Andrew Lloyd Webber's
Broadway musical to video was handled by director
David Mallett. The video will be available Oct. 27.
Over the years, several movie versions of Andrew Lloyd
Webber's "Cats" have been proposed. Steven Spielberg
even took out a Variety ad promoting his intention to
create a full-length cartoon of Broadway's longest-
That never happened, but "Cats", which opened in London
in 1981 and in New York one year later, has now been
filmed. It will make its debut not in movie theaters
but on videocassette. Polygram Video will release the
$25 tape on Oct. 27; a DVD, a laser disc, and a PBS
telecast will follow in early November. "The cartoon
didn't get that close because they came to the conclusion
that the magic of "Cats" wasn't cartoons, but people as
cats," said the film's director, David Mallett, speaking
by phone from London. This production started to come
together about a year and a half ago, although it wasn't
easy lining up the cast or finding a place to perform it.
"We started off wanting to do it in New York," said
Mallett. "But if you do it in a theater where "Cats"
is playing, you have to close production down, because
the seats are still full every night and afternoon. It
would cost more to do that than to make the film.
Then we looked at doing it on a sound stage.
"The final decision was that we took the touring set,
stuffed it up in the Adelphi theater [in London], and
then stripped it all down." The sets were redone for
film, as was the lighting, and the makeup was completely
overhauled. A few special effects were introduced.
"What works in the theater does not work on film," said
Mallett, who went along with Webber's suggestion that
the show be performed for the cameras without an audience.
Shot on Super 16, "Cats" took 18 days to film, and
Mallett treated it as if it were a normal feature-
length movie. It was considered for theatrical release
when it was finished, but the flourishing sell-through
video market seemed the way to go.
"When we finished it, everybody liked it and we discussed
putting it into theaters, but for various reasons that
didn't happen," he said. "The conclusion was that
people who had never seen "Cats" in a theater might
want to see it that way after seeing the video
version, and it could well increase the box office.
Mallett directed Michael Flatley's "Lord of the Dance"
home video and "U2 Zoo TV -- Live From Sydney," but
this was something different: "`U2 was a live event,
whereas the rules of feature films applied to `Cats.
It had no relation to television or covering an event."
For many members of the cast, this was a considerable adjustment.
"Most of the actors had never had anything to do with a
film camera at all," he said. "I was shooting bits, one
line of a song, then running back and doing it back
and people who were film-friendly knew that's the way it
would be. The others had to learn how to pace themselves."
Elaine Paige, who created the role of Grizabella on the
London stage, performing the show's one hit song,
was chosen over several other "Cats" veterans for the film version.
"I think everybody's instinct was to go back to the
person who sang 'Memory' on the record," said Mallett.
Several members of the "Cats" Broadway cast, including
Ken Page, Jacob Brent, and Michael Gruber, took a one-
month leave to re-create their roles in the film.
main Cats on Video page