“I sat here, with my mother, watching CATS at the Opera House in 1989 and said ‘I could do that’ – and here I am...”
Jane McDonald is understandably a little nervous to admit her previous bravado, after being revealed as the star of the show ahead of its return to Blackpool this summer.
And a Memory lapse in performing the show’s famed torch song only served to add to the pressure...
But Jane’s a good northern lass, who was able to laugh at her error, while producer David Ian backed her up – hailing the standard of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s composition.
“He doesn’t write these songs for human beings,” he joked. “Memory is as tough as it gets.”
And David, too, has his own recollections of Blackpool’s CATS history. When the show first came here in 1989, he was playing Joseph in Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat – another Lloyd Webber work, just down the road at the Grand Theatre and was invited to tea with the man himself.
“CATS coming to Blackpool all those years ago was the start of the big shows playing the regions, at the same time as London,” he said. “So it was a major event.”
The show, which premiered in 1981, returned to the West End late last year, revamped for a new generation with the same creative team: associate director Trevor Nunn, choreographer Gillian Lynne and set designs by John Napier.
When it first came to Blackpool, the Opera House’s royal box was ripped out to accommodate the set, as it reached out into the stalls and up to the circle. And 2015 audiences can expect a similar treat when it returns to the Opera House from Thursday, July 9.
“It’s a big set at the Palladium,” David said. “The Opera House actually has better dimensions than the London Palladium, but even in a theatre of this size, the set will come past the proscenium and well into the stalls.
“It very much wraps around the audience and brings them into the action. And since 1989, technology has come along immensely and the audiences are going to get it.”
The revival production has drawn plenty of media attention, with former Pussycat Dolls’ singer Nicole Scherzinger making her West End debut as Grizabella, the glamour cat – the role Jane will play for their eight-week run in Blackpool.
“Every Grizabella brings her own personality to the role, and Kerry Ellis who’s playing it at the moment is fantastic,” Jane said. “I bring age, I’m probably one of the oldest people to play Grizabella – age and emotion. She’s old and fed up and wants to be loved, she’s a tortured soul.”
“She’s worn down by experience,” David added. “And it sits much better with an artist who has lived and been through life and that’s what Jane brings.”
Jane spoke also of her delight at winning the role, having quit TV work last year to return to singing full time and in the hope of securing theatre work.
“I wanted to come back to theatre for a long time,” she explained. “I stepped away from TV, as I’m a singer first and foremost and I couldn’t be more happy with what’s happened as a result. I had a great time on TV but I’m having an even better time now.”
And she spoke of Blackpool’s magical role in her own life: “Blackpool has been like my good luck charm. I remember all those years ago, sitting on the stage here for my first tour, and the press all came in and said ‘It’s exciting isn’t it?’... I didn’t realise my album had just gone to number one.
“It’s a magical place for me. My own show is wild when we bring it here. This production is phenomenal, it’s a gift and I can’t wait. It’s the people here too though. That and you get a good pie.”
CATS runs from Thursday, July 9 until Sunday, September 6. Visit wintergardensblackpool.co.uk for tickets.