At 90 years old, Gillian Lynne — now Dame Gillian Lynne — can say she has helped choreograph two of the longest-running shows in Broadway history: The Phantom of the Opera and Cats.
The latter, a bizarrely touching show about street cats based on T.S. Eliot poems from the 1930s, is about to land at Dubai Opera, running from January 16-28. This will be the first time the original production will be seen here.
Despite several opportunities to become jaded, Lynne sounds just as proud of the show now as she was three-and-a-half decades ago, when no one was sure if it would be a critical success or a total failure.
Before the curtains rise, she tells Gulf News tabloid! about the musical’s highest and lowest points (including bomb scares) and what kind of legacy will be left behind.
Cats is the fourth-longest-running musical on Broadway, after The Phantom of the Opera, Chicago and the Lion King. Did you always envision that it would have that kind of longevity?
No. When we created the show, we had no idea that it would have such a brilliant life. However, now as it has roamed the world, I get so many wonderful letters from dancers who have been in it that I am in awe actually of what we managed to create.
How much has Cats changed since its first show in 1981?
Very little. Of course with any show, one is constantly polishing it and making sure that any modernisations or changes of thought are dealt with, but Cats is an exclusive beast and has remained brilliantly intact from May 11, 1981, when we first placed it in front of the public. One always has to adjust because of the changes in the shape of the venue where we are presenting it and those adjustments can be quite encompassing. I am very proud to have directed the first proscenium arch production of the show in 1983, because when we opened it in London it was in the round and when we did it on Broadway, they created a large thrust stage, and Vienna, in 1983, was the first one to appear in a great classical opera house, the Theatre an der Wien.
Were there any teething issues in the production when it first began?
Yes, there were many teething issues in something that broke so much new ground and was the first of its kind. First of all, for the performers to find the stamina, second of all, for us to create every performer as a cat, therefore moving totally differently from anything anyone had ever seen.
What has been the highest and lowest moment you’ve had with this musical?
The discovery that we had created something that was absolutely unique and rivalled anything that Broadway had ever done — that was a wonderful surprise. We have had two bomb scares, one on the opening night in London and one on the opening night in Sydney — both were false alarms but terrifying to all concerned.
What was one of the earliest moments when you realised you had something special with this show?
I suppose the earliest moment that we realised we had something special was on the first preview. The creative team were all huddled together in the front of the theatre, very nervous. When we heard the first cheers coming and a lot of shouting, and we crept back up to peer into the auditorium and realised that the audience absolutely loved it, then we had an inkling that we might have made something special.
The dance routines in Cats have become iconic in their own right. How do they reflect and drive the emotion of the story?
I am very proud that the dance routines have become iconic and to this day, dancers all over the world who have been in the show launch into sections of the Jellicle Ball, which they love. The dance routines drive the emotion and the movement of the whole show, so of course, there isn’t a movement in it that is not affecting the emotion.
How do you think the audiences in Dubai will respond to it?
I can’t believe that the audiences in Dubai will respond totally differently to any other in the world where we have been — they will love it.
What is your personal favourite segment in the show to choreograph, and why?
I loved choreographing the whole show, so I don’t have a favourite, it’s my baby, but perhaps the White Cat Solo — as we watch a beautiful young cat becoming a young woman, is one of my favourites.
Don’t miss it!
*Tickets to Cats in the UAE begin at Dh275 from dubaiopera.com.