It seems every day, some bigger and more exciting talent joins “Cats,” Tom Hooper’s forthcoming screen adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s record-breaking musical. Based on T.S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats,” the musical is the fourth longest-running show in Broadway history, and the sixth longest-running West End show. Hooper directed the “The King’s Speech,” which won best Picture at the 84th Academy Awards, as well as 2012’s “Les Misérables” adaptation. With help from “Billy Elliot” screenwriter Lee Hall, Hooper will attempt to bring “Cats” to the screen.
Here is a breakdown of the A-list talent already signed onto the project, and a look at their musical theater backgrounds and singing chops.
Jennifer Hudson, Grizabella
Although Hudson’s “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” didn’t quite reach the hair-raising heights of Jennifer Holliday’s, the original Effie White in “Dreamgirls,” nobody ever could, and she was still pretty darn good. The only former “American Idol” finalist to win an Oscar, Hudson certainly has the acting and singing chops to take on the musical’s iconic song, “Memory.” The previously glamorous cat who has fallen on hard times was immortalized by Elaine Paige in the 1981 West End debut, and re-interpreted by Betty Buckley for Broadway. Barbra Streisand also recorded a chart-topping version of the power ballad, giving Hudson another set of big shoes to fill.
Idris Elba, Macavity
With this new project, Idris Elba seems dead set on proving how far he has come from playing Stringer Bell, the chilling right-hand-man-turned-kingpin in HBO’s “The Wire.” Macavity may be the musical’s undisputed villain, but he still wears a leotard and eye make-up, although it remains to be seen how loyal Hooper will stay to John Napier’s Tony Award-winning costume design. In between “The Wire” becoming a cult classic and those James Bond rumors that just won’t quit, Elba had a thriving R & B career back in his hometown of London. Here he is, under the moniker “Driis,” serenading a woman’s “Private Garden.”
Dame Judi Dench, Deuteronomy
A little gender-swapping may be the first indication that Hooper could bring some fresh life to the long-running musical. Though the dame seems to have axed “Old” from his title, M herself has signed on to play Deuteronomy, the Jellicle leader is kidnapped and held hostage by the devious Macavity. Though notoriously shy about her singing voice, Dench received warm reviews when she played Sally Bowles in the 1968 West End production of “Cabaret.” Dench was originally cast to play Grizabella in the West End debut of “Cats,” but snapped her achilles tendon in rehearsals, and the role went to Elaine Paige. Here she is singing “Send in the Clowns,” by Stephen Sondheim.
Taylor Swift, TBD
Obviously, we know Taylor Swift can sing (even if Beyoncé did have one of the best videos of all time). The better question to ask of Nashville’s favorite country princess may be, can she dance? Although Swift’s role in “Cats” has not yet been announced, Hooper said he wants to meet the singer before deciding, “Cats” is a dance-heavy musical for all the characters. Tay-Tay’s moves are almost comically derided, and there are a seemingly unlimited number of video compilations to explain why. Here she is, dancing like she’s extremely 22, and teasing the the kind of choreography we can expect.
James Corden, TBD
The late-night host began his career in the theater, but generally favored plays over musicals. With guest appearances from Adele, Paul McCartney, and Michelle Obama, his duets on “Carpool Karaoke” have become such a strong brand on its own, the mini-franchise has eclipsed everything else from “The Late Late Show With James Corden.” For a taste of how Corden sings when he’s also acting, we can look to Rob Marshall’s 2014 screen adaptation of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s beloved classic, “Into the Woods.” Here he appears as The Baker, singing “It Takes Two” with Emily Blunt, who played The Baker’s Wife.
Ian McKellen, TBD
Though clues about Sir Ian’s singing chops are scant, he delivers a master class in Broadway belting with his famous “You Shall Not Pass” line from “The Fellowship of the Ring.” If he gives Lloyd Webber’s music half as much gusto, he should be good.