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Tag Archives: Andrew Lloyd Webber

Tom Hooper finished off his musical just 36 hours before its premiere. Will this, a turn-off trailer, awards snubs and an impurrfect gestation stop it being Christmas catnip?

For film critics, London press screening schedules are devised like a military operation: timetabled, negotiated and cross-referenced by an army of distributors and publicists, with a view generally to keeping each major studio offering out of the others way. The pre-Christmas crush is when the efficiency of the system tends to be most tested, but rarely has there been a scheduling overlap as high-profile and high-stakes as the one we saw on Monday night as the large multimedia premieres of Cats and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker played back-to-back in Leicester Square, a long, loud double feature that sent bleary-eyed journalists home somewhere close to midnight.

It wasnt always meant to be this way. The latest Star Wars episode had long had that premiere date nailed down: suitably close to its public release to appease studio spoilerphobia, and an acknowledgement that any franchise this critic-proof doesnt need long-lead reviews. Cats gatecrashing this weeks schedule, however, was a frenzied move for a project that despite years of gestation and development, not to mention a gargantuan budget is looking increasingly like one of the most last-minute, down-to-the-wire blockbusters in Hollywood history.

Tom Hoopers much hyped, fluorescent film version of the Andrew Lloyd Webber stage smash began shooting last December, wrapped at the beginning of April, and has been mired in allegedly complex post-production ever since. Allegedly seems an unnecessary qualifier, in fact, given what the trailer already revealed as early as July. Coating a vast ensemble of human stars and dancers in fluid, tactile feline pelts was never going to be a simple task: digital fur technology, as weve been instructed to call it, wasnt built in a day. And it hasnt just been the visuals consuming time: word has it that multiple Soho sound studios were booked out last week in a concentrated push to finish the films busy audio mix.

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The delay has, it seems, come at some cost to the films awards season momentum. Most critics groups didnt get to see the film in time for their voting deadlines, though even in the best of circumstances, their tastes tend to skew more highbrow. More imperative was meeting the cutoff for Golden Globes voting. A not-quite-finished cut was shown to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, known for supporting razzle-dazzle musicals such as The Greatest Showman and Burlesque, but with dispiriting results: the effort yielded only one nomination, for Taylor Swifts original song Beautiful Ghosts. Even that seemingly surefire Oscars bid was shot down this week, as the Academy announced their shortlists for several categories: Swifts mournful ballad was nowhere to be seen among the 15 best song finalists, though the visual effects are still in contention.

That those effects may be the films best remaining shot at awards glory is somewhat ironic, considering what a point of contention theyve been. The images we saw back in the summer to a global chorus of what-the-hell-is-that horror and delight that made an instant and inexhaustible meme factory out of a two-minute trailer were, apparently, not quite finished.

The internets gleefully aghast reaction didnt prompt the kind of studio panic, rethink and redesign that we recently saw with Sonic the Hedgehog, but Hooper claims that some tweaking was done in response: The visual effects [in the trailer] were at quite an early stage, he told Empire magazine. Possibly there were, in the extremity in some of the responses, some clues in how to keep evolving. When you watch the finished film, youll see that some of the designs of the cats have moved on since then, and certainly our understanding of how to use the technology to make them work has gone up, too.

Jennifer Hudson in Cats. Photograph: Allstar/Working Title films/Amblin Entertainment

If this is true, it may take eagle-eyed effects buffs to spot the exact evolution: a second trailer, released in November, didnt look appreciably different from the first, though the shock impact of the human-cat hybrids appearance was reduced with forewarning. (Ready or not from a technical perspective, Universal was wise to tease the films look early and get us accustomed to its eccentricity.) And while the finished product is still under critical embargo for now, its not incriminating to say that it delivers very much the spectacle that those fixated on the trailer are expecting: the technicians many hours of painstaking work are nothing if not evident.

Hooper is known in the industry for being exacting, but if hes been flustered by the films scramble to the finish line, hes remained impassively cool in public admitting casually on Mondays New York premiere that hed only locked the final cut at 8am the day before. He continues, moreover, to walk a fine line between deflecting the internets bewilderment and humouring it. In response to a Variety reporter asking whether he was happy with Cats finished look not a question most directors would expect to be asked on the promotion trail, but a near-unavoidably salient one in this case his answer was an expert PR play: having only officially finished the film 36 hours before, he was simply glad to be showing it at all. Im very happy to be here with it fully finished, and yeah, well let the audience decide, but its come a long way since that first trailer.

Its being left to the actors, it seems, to take a more defensive approach. I thought that reaction [to the trailer] was absolutely ludicrous, Ian McKellen fumed in an interview this week, going on to declare the finished film an absolute classic. I can tell those doubters whove only seen snippets of a trailer that theyre absolutely wrong, and if they dont agree with me, then keep away. Hoopers more measured let the audience decide line is harder to argue with. Never a film made for critics, and with its awards-season hopes looking ever leaner, Cats will be counting on a vast, breathless public one both uninformed of and uninterested in its production and scheduling complications to make those sleepless nights worthwhile.

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Singer has written the lyrics to new song Beautiful Ghosts for the film, theatrical legend is quoted as saying

Diehard fans of Andrew Lloyd Webbers musical Cats may be in for a shock with reports that the musical theatre maestro has teamed up to write a new song for the forthcoming film adaptation with Taylor Swift.

Swifts involvement in the much-discussed live-action musical has already been a point of note: she will make a furry appearance in the film as the character of Bombalurina. But her involvement has apparently gone further, with Lloyd Webber telling the Daily Mail that she had written the lyrics to a new song, called Beautiful Ghosts, for the film.

The song will feature in a performance by ballet dancer Francesca Hayward, who plays the feline character of Victoria, a role that has been expanded from the stage version to make it more central to the plot.

Lloyd Webber told the newspaper the song would also be sung briefly by Dame Judy Dench, who plays Old Deuteronomy. It was reportedly written over a year ago.

Swift will also perform her own version of the song over the end credits. The new song means the film becomes eligible for best song categories in prestigious annual film awards such as the Academy awards. Swift has never won an Oscar, although Lloyd Webber has in 1997, with Tim Rice, for a song from Evita.

Lloyd Webber penned the score for the original stage musical, based on TS Eliots Old Possums Book of Practical Cats, in 1977 and it was first performed on stage in 1981. The wafer-thin plot tells the story of the Jellicles, a colony of cats, over the night of their annual Jellicle ball.

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Watch the Cats movie trailer – video

The forthcoming film adaptation is directed by Tom Hooper, who was behind the 2012 live-action version of Les Misrables. Its ensemble cast contains some of the biggest names in film and television, including Dench, Jennifer Hudson, Idris Elba, Rebel Wilson, Jason Derulo, and Sir Ian McKellen.

The trailer for the film sent jaws dropping when it debuted in July, depicting as it did not actual cats, but humans apparently transmogrified into dancing and singing, oddly sized furry human-cat hybrids.

Some viewers called the trailer cursed, nightmarish, and resembling a demented dream ballet.

Cats opens in cinemas in the UK, US and Australia in December.

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Theres no plot, no subtext and no apparent point, but the tunes including Memory, sung by Leona Lewis drill into your brain like a flesh-eating worm

For the entirety of the two hours I sat watching Cats, which is back on Broadway after a 16-year absence, I had a version of the Muppets Statler and Waldorf routine going on in my mind. This revival is TERRIBLE, I thought; hideously dated, boring, empty, meaningless, unfunny, kitsch without meaning to be, complacent, simultaneously bloated and undernourished. Bringing it back was a terrible idea and Trevor Nunn, who directed the original and has been re-engaged for the revival, should be thoroughly ashamed of himself.

Wait. Wait a goddamn minute. What on earth am I talking about? This is TERRIFIC. Look at me Im actually smiling in the darkness! Look at these fun people on stage, doing scissor jumps and backflips in their cat-themed lycra body suits! This is amazing! How could anyone resist this? This is the most charming, life-affirming thing Ive ever seen. This is my nine-year-old self, leaping out to take the hand of my 40-year-old self and begging her to give up on her cynicism and submit to the magic! Look LOOK! its only bloody Magical Mr Mistoffelees!

I still have no idea which view is the right one. What I will say is that, as with every Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Ive ever been to, I travelled home on the subway afterwards humming a tune that had drilled its way into my brain like a flesh-eating worm. (In this case, Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat.) I will also admit that, while there was, as ever, no plot, no subtext, no apparent point to Cats, in the aftermath of seeing it I felt very cheerful.

Leona Lewis as Grizabella: a tough job. Photograph: Matthew Murphy

This production, which has transferred from London, originally featured ex-Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger in the role of Grizabella she who sings Memory but after demanding that her name go above the shows title on the awning, she was replaced at the last minute with Leona Lewis, a former winner of the British X Factor.

Lewis has a tough job. Cats is a show that is all chorus and no leads, with the exception of Grizabella, on whose shoulders must rest the musicals best-known song. And she has tough acts to follow: Memory has been covered, over the years, by Barbra Streisand and Celine Dion. In its original 1981 London production, Elaine Paige was Grizabella (a year later, on Broadway, it was Betty Buckley), with Brian Blessed as Old Deuteronomy and, somewhat incredibly, Sir John Mills as Gus, the Theatre Cat, here played with lovely pathos by Christopher Gurr.

But back to Leona Lewis. Any song from a show that has, over the years, unshackled itself from the score and become a standalone hit is hard to re-embed in the original narrative since, at the first strains of the opening bars, the audience tends to snap out of its reverie and be brought to a moment of keen self-awareness. Eh up here it comes!

So it was here. Lewis has a beautiful voice, but when she performed Memory, she was not Grizabella the mangy old cat, but Leona Lewis, pop star and seller of 20m records, just as, a few years ago, when Catherine Zeta Jones played Desiree in A Little Night Music (also directed by Nunn) she busted out of role to sing Send in the Clowns with the zip of the Incredible Hulk busting out of his shirt.

Perhaps this doesnt matter. A song sung on these terms can still be highly enjoyable, although in this case I found the performance of Memory rather stressful, particularly the crescendo at the end and the bits when Lewis listed dangerously to one side while doing some Acting. It was a relief when the story moved on.

The set is impressive, with a huge moon projected on to the back of the stage and large, junk shop-type furniture plastered all the way up the wings of the theatre. And the rest of the cast is very good, particularly Ricky Ubeda, the dancer who plays Mr Mistoffelees.

Nine lives a night: Andy Huntington Jones as Munkustrap. Photograph: Matthew Murphy

Id also forgotten how sinister Cats is in the middle, full of weird, trippy scenes that look as if they belong to the 1979 gang film The Warriors.

The shows original choreographer was the legendary Dame Gillian Lynne, and this production apparently features updated choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler, who choreographed Hamilton, not that youd know it. Everything feels faithful to 1981, a testament, one assumes, to Lloyd Webbers conviction that, like Balanchines The Nutcracker, Cats is enough of a classic to require little in the way of modernisation. And he may be right; meddle with these juggernauts at your peril. The 2012 Broadway revival of Jesus Christ Superstar, which closed after a few months, was scuppered by what felt like to me an anxious and tin-eared modernisation.

Cats, on the other hand, is a period piece, which is part of its charm and also its peculiarity. I cant see it flying on Broadway in 2016. Too slow, too tame, too threadbare. And so why, 24 hours after seeing it and somewhat to my annoyance, am I still smiling?

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The X Factor made her a global star, then she provided Jimmy Page with his proudest post-Zep moment. Ten years on, Lewis is making the leap to Broadway

When it comes to credentials for a long career in pop, winning The X Factor has proved about as reliable as a degree from Trump University. However, there has been one unexpected beneficiary of the endless stream of starry-eyed warblers the world of stage musicals, which have long provided a safe harbour for former contestants.

In the UK, Pop Idol winner Will Young went on to star in Cabaret, while X Factor semi-finalist Diana Vickers soon found herself treading the boards in The Rise and Fall of Little Voice in Londons West End. In the US meanwhile, American Idol has sent a busy succession of contestants to Broadway, from Clay Aiken, who had a run in Spamalot, to 2007 winner Jordin Sparks, who performed in Lin-Manuel Mirandas pre-Hamilton hit In the Heights.

Now, however, theres been a transatlantic exchange, with the most successful ever winner of The X Factor UK landing directly on the Great White Way. On Sunday, the musical Cats officially opens, with Leona Lewis donning whiskers and a tattered tail to play Grizabella, the Glamour Cat. The show revives the Andrew Lloyd Webber juggernaut, whose lyrics are based on TS Eliots Old Possums Book of Practical Cats. (Its most famous song, Memory, also bastardizes the poets Preludes and Rhapsody on a Windy Night.)

Cats original production started in 1981 and ran for 18 years (21 in the West End); this upgraded version, with a young cast performing their paws off, also looks poised for success. Lewis took the role after Nicole Scherzinger pulled out at short notice. With a strange circularity, the former Pussycat Doll, who had performed the role in the 2014 West End revival, had decided to take up an offer to become a judge on The X Factor instead.

Its so weird, muses Lewis about the coincidence as she sits on a sofa in her dressing room on a sweltering midweek afternoon, wearing the regulation 2016 summer uniform of a giant denim shirt dress. I guess its a small world, really.

Leona Lewis and the cast pose outside the theatre. Photograph: Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic

She was asked to join the cast by Lloyd Webber, who told the Economist that he was furious when Scherzinger quit. Lloyd Webber called Lewis to ask whether she was interested, but insisted that she audition. Being a seasoned trouper, she flew to New York (she has homes in Los Angeles and London) and within a few days the part was hers. She will play Grizabella until October, not a long stint by theatre standards. Id just come off a tour, I was having some time off and it just seemed like the perfect role because its not a long commitment.

Until One Direction came along, Lewis was the most successful X Factor contestant ever. Poised and humble, with a stratospheric voice, she won the contest in 2006. A year later her second single Bleeding Love was No 1 in 35 countries, including the US, while its parent album Spirit sold 9m copies worldwide not quite as much as the 15m American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson achieved with her second album, Breakaway, but still serious numbers.

After a few years, however, she and Simon Cowell, the X Factor judge and her label boss, came to disagree about which musical direction she should go in (she made a dubstep-tinged album inspired by Kate Bush and Tears for Fears; he wanted her to do Motown-style covers) and Lewis left his label. A subsequent stint with Island Records ended a few weeks ago, and now Lewis is moving on. This week she has been recording We Are Free from the Gladiator soundtrack with legendary film composer Hans Zimmer; she is also working on a single to come out later this year. Two years ago she alarmed some fans by writing an open letter in which she described the stress she had been under as her relationship with Cowells label deteriorated, but now Lewis says she feels creatively unshackled: Having had a decade from doing [The X Factor] to now, Im freed up to do things that I have always wanted to do.

If Lewis picked Cats as to remind the public of her indisputable talents, she chose well. She gets the big number, Memory, coolly drains it of most of its schmaltz, and then belts it with such passion and precision it probably ends up in Times Square. The pressure of handling such a showstopper doesnt faze her: Lewis is a stage school kid who first saw Cats aged seven. I know the song, Ive sung it since I was a little girl its been exciting [to perform], more than too much, she says.

Shes used to high-stakes performances. Two years after The X Factor, in which she had to crush the competition in front of an audience of millions every week, she performed Whole Lotta Love with Jimmy Page at the handover ceremony at the Olympics in Beijing. Page described it, quite sincerely, as his proudest moment outside Led Zeppelin. We spent loads of time together in Beijing and hes like a lovely uncle, so kind, says Lewis of the once notorious guitarist. All the iconic rock stars Ive gotten to meet are like that. They are all so chill, and have no ego theyre very confident and secure in themselves.

Lewis is a vegan and animal rights activist. She refused to open the Harrods sale because they sell fur coats, said she would give up her career in return for a global ban on vivisection, and even managed to stop her German boyfriend, brought up on bratwurst, from eating meat. Did her empathy for the animal kingdom influence her interpretation of the role a moth-eaten kitty shunned by her fellow felines, but taking comfort from memories of her glory days?

Lewis winning the X Factor in 2006. Photograph: Ken McKay/REX

Shes gracious enough to take the question seriously. Its weird, isnt it, because I also got offered a part in The Lion King when I was younger, she says. There is definitely something for putting that kind of vibe out there maybe that played a part in me taking on the role of an animal. As for real-life felines, she feeds a stray cat that stalks her land in LA, but is more of a dog and horse person. Cats are more standoffish. But it depends. My cousins got this big tabby cat that Im in love with.

Lewis is not the kind of pop star who mouths off, gets into Twitter feuds or makes controversial videos. In the age of Kanye and Rihanna, where outrage is a potent currency, that can make her seem an anomaly. Yet along with animal rights, there are other issues that she feels moved to speak out about most recently, the massacre of 49 people at Pulse, the gay club in Orlando, Florida. It struck a chord, she says. I think of my friends that could have been there, or it could have been me that was there. Putting yourself in that position is just so devastating. Its terrible, this world were living in now and it just seems to get worse and worse. Every day youre turning on the news and some other tragedy has happened. Its awful.

So whats the role of a performer in all this to provide escapism from the horrors of daily life? Lewis disagrees. When people come and see a show I hope that they take away something from it, she says. The shows got a lot of heart. Grizabellas someone thats been outcast and the storyline is about acceptance and love. That is a deeper reason as to why I do music. I dont think its escapism at all, actually. I think its really meaningful. Its about people coming away feeling moved and having a bit more love in their heart.

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