Review: Cats! Cats Everywhere!
Feisty felines were everywhere to be seen as legendary hit show Cats stormed onto Wearside.
The once-longest running musical in history, which premiered in the West End in 1981, showed no sign of getting tired as it started its six-day stint at the Sunderland Empire on Monday.
A multi-talented cast showed the fully danced-through production off at its best, with an unrivalled energy.
Apparently slightly updated over the years, the show still rings true to Gillian Lynne's original choreography of 35 years ago.
Based on TS Eliot's collection of poems - Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats - and set to the original score of Andrew Lloyd Webber, the uncomplicated plot introduces each of the characters of 'Jellicle Cats' in song and dance.
The cats meet once a year beneath the moonlight at the Jellicle Ball, where their leader - Old Deuteronomy (Kevin Stephen-Jones) - selects one cat, who will journey to 'the Heaviside Layer' and be reborn.
There is so much going on in terms of the movement of each individual cat that you can't help but discover something different wherever you look, which gives the show an air of improvisation.
The majority of the cast is on stage for almost the full two hours, introducing their fellow cats, and supporting their solo numbers.
Victoria - aka the white cat - (Sophie MacAvoy) performed a short but stunning lyrical dance solo at the start.
Also worth mentioning were the acrobatic moves of Mungojerrie (Joe Hentry) and Rumpleteazer (Emily Langham) as the the hilarious self-confessed petty criminals, the brillliant Marcquelle Ward as the wayward dread-locked Run Tum Tugger.
But it was the amazing Greg Castignioni, who for me, stole the show in his portrayal of elderly and dithering Asparagus - or Gus the theatre cat - desperate to regale the audience with his past on-stage triumphs, before going back in time and transforming into Growltiger - the terror of the Thames - as a pirate battle commences.
It would be impossible to mention each individual character here, but there was not one of them that did not impress, was it for their dancing prowess, comedy or singing.
It is perhaps the most famous character Grizabella - the glamour cat - who has possibly the least stage time of all the Jellicles.
Shunned by her feline colleagues, the ageing and tatty feline (Marianne Benedict), laments her fading life in the unforgettable 'Memory'.
And, it is she who eventually becomes Old Deuteronomy's chosen cat to make the journey to the afterlife, as the other cats finally accept her to wish her well.
There is constantly something happening in every corner of the stage - and indeed by way of audience interaction off the stage - that blink, and you'll miss it.
Some - literally - breath-taking polytechnics also keep the momentum going and the live orchestra was - quite frankly - magical.
It was the first time I'd seen the show since a trip to London aged 13, where I saw it in its original home of the New London Theatre.
I was a bit apprehensive as the layout of the stage would be different - the New London Theatre set famous for its television study-type circular stage with both the cast and part of the audience on a revolving platform.
But I needn't have worried,a s the show was just as magical as I remembered it 22 years ago.
Cats is on at the Sunderland Empire until Saturday, September 24.
Tickets are available from the Box Office on 0844 871 3022 (7p per minute) or book online at www.atgtickets.com/shows/cats/sunderland-empire/