Jane’s got it licked on Cats’ opening night

Jane McDonald as Grizabella in Cats, at the Winter Gardens this summer
Jane McDonald as Grizabella in Cats, at the Winter Gardens this summer
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Cats cast its musical magic over stars and dignitaries in the show’s official opening night.

A packed Opera House audience gave a rousing standing ovation, which clearly delighted the company on stage.

The cast of Cats at the Winter Gardens, Blackpool, for the summer

The cast of Cats at the Winter Gardens, Blackpool, for the summer

And Jane McDonald has proven picture purr-fect, as the first image of her as Grizabella was revealed alongside the press night gala.

Among the first on her feet and quick to praise the production was Amanda Thompson, managing director of the Pleasure Beach.

“The cast was superb,” she said. “And the choreography was stunningly beautiful from beginning to end, and I’m so thrilled we have a great show like this in the North West.

“It was a really fabulous production.”

We have turned the corner in Blackpool now, it is the place to see West End productions and we’re back on the map for that.

Coun Graham Cain

She also heaped praise on former Loose Women presenter Jane, who came to fame as ship’s cabaret singer on BBC1’s The Cruise, as did several other invited guests.

Blackpool-born Coronation Street actress Hayley Tamaddon said: “Jane absolutely smashed it, I’m so proud of her.

“It was such a nerve-wrecking job to take on and her voice was phenomenal, she deserved the ovation.”

While her fellow Coronation Street star, 13-year-old Alex Bain, who plays Simon Barlow, was impressed with the dancing and set.

“It was amazing, out of this world,” he said. “Walking in and seeing the set was, like, ‘wow’.

“They were all phenomenal dancers, off the scale, and I was a bit star struck to meet Jane McDonald.”

Blackpool Council cabinet secretary Coun Graham Cain hailed the whole performance as ‘world class’, and said talks were already well underway for 2016.

“If you want to see Cats at its best, then come to Blackpool,” he said. “The Opera House, I think, has the world’s best stage and I hope we see shows like this for many years to come now that we are back on the map.

“We have turned the corner in Blackpool now, it is the place to see West End productions and we’re back on the map for that.

“There have been top theatre producers here that I have spoken to tonight, and they recognise that.”

John Barnett, founder of Radio Wave, said it had been an uplifting night.

“Nobody can say anything negative about this town, when you can experience a show that is so absolutely feel-good,” he said.

“This endorses Blackpool as the capital of entertainment - there’s no city anywhere, outside of London and maybe Paris in Europe, that is on a level with us.”

And Coun Mark Smith, cabinet member for business and economic development, called on businesses to back the production, adding: “I thought it was fantastic, great show for Blackpool, and will bring people into town for the show.

“Businesses now have to support it, and use it to support themselves.

“We bring this for the hotels and restaurants to be able to use it and promote themselves.

“It’s so affordable to see such a high quality show in Blackpool. People can make a longer break of it in our high quality affordable accommodation, and visit the other attractions while they’re here.” Theatre producer, and part of the team behind the Illuminasia attraction at the Winter Gardens - where the after show party took place, Jon Conway recalled the success of Cats in 1989 and said he hoped to see the same this time round.

“I had my first summer season in Blackpool when Cats was here the first time, and everyone said it would be the death of us,” he said. “But we did the best business ever with the Grumbleweeds.

“It’s great when Blackpool has tourists in town to offer something like this.”

Hayley was another one to recall the 1989 six-month run of the show - uncannily being sat in the same seats this time round as back then, again with her mum.

She met one of the cast, as they were in a corridor near the toilets, during the interval and he invited her backstage after the show after she told him she wanted to be a dancer when she grew up. Eleven-year-old Hayley dragged her mum to the stage door after the show to be met by the ‘cat’.

“We had a backstage tour, I met them all - Bonnie Langford, who’s now a friend of mine, Marti Webb was in it, and got loads of freebies” she said.

“And I always remembered the cat’s name, it was John Partridge.

“I couldn’t believe it when he joined EastEnders a few years back as Christian. I saw him then at an awards do, and went and told him that story - and it made him cry.

“It’s such an iconic show, I always wanted to be in it but wasn’t good enough at ballet, and this cast will be the stars of the future.”

Cats runs at the Opera House until Saturday, September 5.