After having fun and exploring the ins and outs of disco music with a pile of space-tinged singles in the late 1970s, Sarah Brightman took to musical theatre with a role in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats.
Brightman and Webber would, of course, go on to have quite the relationship – more on that in future entries – but the genesis of it was firmly placed in this astonishingly popular musical.
Webber composed the thing. It’s based on T. S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” and it really is, for what it is, a pretty entertaining musical. I’ve never been all that partial to Webber’s work, I have to admit, but the songs are catchy and their musical constructions are not all that flamboyant. The closer Webber keeps to Eliot’s feline fancies, the better things are.
Cats would open in London in May of 1981 and wound up playing for 21 years in the West End.
For her part, our heroine was cast as Jemima. She is the youngest of the cats and is responsible for accepting Grizabella, for what that’s worth. Brightman’s voice isn’t the star of Cats and her part is mostly based around her elegant dance moves, doubtlessly honed during the Hot Gossip days, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing of vocal interest in Cats.
Brightman shines most on the reprise of “Memory,” presented near the end of the second act. Joined by Grizabella, played in the original London production by the inimitable Elaine Page, Brightman’s crystalline tones take shape as she encapsulates all that is innocent and hopeful about her kitten character.
Brightman is also audible in other areas, like after Old Deuteronomy sings “The Moments of Happiness” and Jemima chimes in with a little more “Memory.”
Cats is notable for a number of reasons and there’s a fair bit of interesting trivia surrounding it, but there aren’t many Brightman highlights to be had. What we have is the formation of a voice and the outlines of some beautifully clear tones that would come to bear in future pieces. What we also have is Brightman’s first big introduction to musical theatre, a world that would envelop her and provide what would arguably be her most popular moments.
It could be safely argued that Webber’s Cats laid the foundation. Without it, we might not have experienced this Angel of Music in the same way. And without Jemima, Grizabella might not have made her way to Heaviside Layer.