– GETTING IT OFF THE GROUND –
My first serious discussion about a stage musical of the poems was with Cameron Mackintosh. Cameron had produced several shows in the West End and some successful touring productions for the Arts Council. But he had not produced any big hits. I was coming to the end of a 10-year management contract with Robert Stigwood and I sensed there were more than a few raised eyebrows in that camp when they learned that I wanted to develop the idea of the cat poems as a musical with Cameron.
“If you want to liken a theatre project to pushing a boulder up a hill, Cats redefined the boulder.”
It was Cameron who suggested Gillian Lynne as choreographer and our initial discussions with her led us to Trevor Nunn who, as the head of the Royal Shakespeare Company, had recently worked with Gillie on a hugely acclaimed production of The Comedy Of Errors.
This led to me meeting another of Trevor’s collaborators, the designer John Napier who had tackled animals before with the play Equus. After a lot of questioning and doubt about our sanity and trusting in John’s belief that he could turn human beings into cats, we took the plunge. Trevor and I began shaping the material. Cats the Musical was born.
If you want to liken a theatre project to pushing a boulder up a hill, Cats redefined the boulder. This is how it appeared to the outside world.
Andrew Lloyd Webber without Tim Rice (my only other show without him Jeeves was a celebrated flop) was setting the words of a dead poet directed by the boss of the RSC who had never directed a musical. Worse there was to be a lot of dance at a time when it was axiomatic that only the Americans could do a dance show. There was no impresario like Stigwood. Cameron had never had a hit as a producer. The theatre we were to open in, the New London, was a graveyard where even Grease starring Richard Gere had been a flop. And to top it all, the West End Rialto sniggered, people were going to be dressed up as cats!
It was little wonder that I had to raise a second mortgage on my house. Investors were few and far between, until the first preview when mysteriously promised but unreceived money appeared from nowhere.
“Judy Dench, who Trevor had persuaded to play Grizabella, snapped her Achilles tendon during rehearsals.”
To further add to the certainty that the first preview would be a night of unparalleled bathos, Judy Dench, who Trevor had persuaded to play Grizabella, snapped her Achilles tendon during rehearsals. Although she tried valiantly to return during our technical rehearsals, she fell badly. Trevor would not allow her to continue.
It’s the stuff of legend now that Elaine Paige, who had played Evita so wonderfully, stepped into the role. Somehow, although we pushed back our opening night, we previewed on time.