Ben Thompson takes members of the original cast and creative driving forces back to the theatre where it all began, the New London Theatre – now called the Gillian Lynne theatre, after the genius choreographer who created the iconic dances. The late Gillian Lynne was a key part of the production and a much loved part of the crew. Her widower, Peter Land, tells Ben some tales that Gillian shared with him, and how immensely proud he is of her skill and passion.
Cast members Paul Nicholas, Bonnie Langford, Wayne Sleep, Seeta Indrani, Myra Sands, Donald Waugh and Femi Taylor, together with Brian Blessed and Elaine Paige share stories about the dances, the songs, the camaraderie, disasters, nerves and tensions of this well-loved production.
No one knows the show like the First Cast – they created the parts that others would inhabit, in some cases, for many decades to come. They lived through the show’s development, its opening night, the changes, re-thinks, the plaudits, the nerves and the brickbats of the earliest days. It is the stuff of legend, shared by some of our most loved performers.
Ben discovers what it took to get this production to the stage – hearing director Trevor Nunn even recite some of the poems; designer John Napier walks Ben through the challenge of his amazing set; assistant stage manager, Mamma Mia’s producer Judy Craymer, reports on how backstage was managed in total darkness; theatre manager Nick Allott gives a rare insight into celebrity guests and audience nightmares; and to crown it all producer Cameron Mackintosh takes us through the process of getting this global success off the ground. He recalls the casting, the rehearsals, the tantrums, the previews, the reviews over the first few months.
But Cats would not exist without Andrew Lloyd Webber’s incredible music, his ability to combine so many musical elements to inspire musicians around him, like the incredible band that first night. Ben discovers what inspired him in the first place, how he went about composing the thrilling music, and his hopes and fears as the musical developed. His band was key to the musicals success, and we hear from the legendary Rod Argent, one of the musicians at Andrew Lloyd Webber’s side, about what makes this musical so special and unique.
Liberally illustrated with the music of the original cast album, we discover the inside story of the soar-away-success – compelling, honest, funny and sometimes jaw dropping, this warm, gloriously gossipy Christmas Special is essential listening for anyone who enjoys musical theatre.