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A tough week for Cats-lovers

Last week, the trailer for the new Cats musical hit the internet and people lost their minds.  Starring the likes of Dame Judi Dench, Sir Ian McKellen, Grammy winner Jennifer Hudson, Idris Elba, cat-lover Taylor Swift, late night’s James Corden and comedy star Rebel Wilson, the movie reboot of one of theatre’s longest running and most ground-breaking plays should arrive with much fanfare.

Instead, social media has lit up with descriptions like “terrifying” and “the stuff of nightmares” for the trailer.

So let’s break this down.  For those who have no memory of the 1980’s when the play ran for 18 years on Broadway and 21 years in London, Cats is based on the poetry of T.S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.”  The play was loved by adults for its mystical appeal and the manner in which audiences were brought into the world of the cat.

From the audience perspective, the fur- and spandex-clad dancers and singers became cats.  The oversized sets gave a new perspective on stage.  And the music was legendary.

So why are today’s audiences freaking out on social media?  The complaints – in no particular order – are as follows:

The cats are furry but have strangely human faces and hands. The inbetweenness is “deeply disconcerting.”  Well, that’s because they’re played by humans.  Apparently, nobody on social media has ever worn an animal costume for Halloween.

The female cats have breasts.  So do post-partum mama cats.  And if the CGI-added fur is disturbing, why would you want to flatten out the girls too?  (Ironically, no one has complained about the lack of “boy bits” on the males.  Most street cats aren’t neutered.”

The tails are coming out of the dancers’ rears instead of above it.  Really?  The prima ballerina, Francesca Howard, executes a flawless pirouette and you’re checking for a feline butthole?

Some have suggested that if producers were going to use technology to make them more cat-like, they should have just gone all the way with it like The Lion King did.  It’s making millions with life-like talking wild animals plotting against each other – not unlike a bad acid trip into George Orwell’s Animal Farm.  And yet, Taylor Swift singing in a cat-suit is “creepy and weird.”

Computer-generated special effects on television and film is spoiling audiences.  We suspend anything remotely related to reality with flying characters and non-human villains.  Yet “digital fur technology” has critics in a fluff.

Apparently, we’ve lost our natural childlike ability to imagine.  Ironically, if technology doesn’t create it digitally over a green-screen, it’s not real enough.  (Let that soak in for a moment.)

But that’s the joy of live theatre.  The costumes and lighting and actors and story give the audience just enough to pull us into their imaginative world.  Then we do the rest with our imagination and become part of the experience.  That’s the magic producers are trying to recreate in this film.

Maybe audiences will get it when Cats premieres in December.  For now, they’ve got the Orwellian nightmare with Mufasa.