After breaking the internet for all the wrong reasons back in July with a trailer that defined the term WTF, the eagerly-awaited big screen adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Cats finally hits the big screen this week.
Hopefully Tom Hooper’s take on the Broadway smash will provide answers to the many questions we had in the wake of its mystifying promo. Why does the size of the cats appear to change with each shot, for example? Why do they have breasts? And perhaps most pressing of all, why is Judi Dench’s feline character wearing a coat made of cat fur?
One thing we’re guaranteed to find out is how does Jennifer Hudson’s rendition of “Memory” stand up to the hundreds of singers who have tackled Cats‘ biggest showtune over the years? Here’s a look at ten other Billboard-charting artists whose paw-steps the new Grizabella is following in.
Olivier Award winner Elaine Paige may have been the first to record the showboating ballad (her version reached the U.K. top 10), but Barbra Streisand was the first to take it into the Billboard Hot 100. Taken from her 1981 compilation Memories, Babs’ rendition peaked at No. 52 and was produced by none other than Andrew Lloyd Webber himself. Streisand would also cover the musical impresario’s works on 1993’s Back to Broadway (see “The Music of the Night” from The Phantom of the Opera and “As If We Never Said Goodbye” from Sunset Boulevard).
Streisand wasn’t the only old-fashioned crooner to score a hit with “Memory” in the ’80s. Barry Manilow, who collaborated with Babs on her 2002 Duets collection, actually went 13 places better with his faithful rendition. Taken from his 12th studio effort, Here Comes the Night, Manilow’s “Memory” was released as a double A-side with the slightly more forgettable self-penned track, “Heart of Steel.”
Celine Dion is never one to do things by halves. So it’s not too surprising that she fully immersed herself into the whole Cats world when she performed “Memory” as a 19-year-old on the French-Canadian TV show L’Autobus du show-business. Dion, who couldn’t actually speak English at the time, donned a skin-tight furry catsuit, full feline make-up and frazzled wig while belting out the musical’s climax. It may make “My Heart Will Go On” look subtle in comparison but you can’t fault her commitment.
Sarah Brightman perhaps had more right than any other artist to put her own spin on Cats‘ showstopper. The soprano was married to one of its co-writers, Andrew Lloyd Webber, for six years. Interestingly, she recorded the track two years after their 1990 divorce, having also headed out on a world tour showcasing her ex-husband’s most popular songs.
Boasting classically-trained mezzo-soprano Simone Simons in their lineup and two live albums with a 40-piece orchestra and 30-piece choir in their discography, Epica are no strangers to the theatrical. But the Dutch symphonic metal outfit, who have scored three entries on the Billboard 200 this decade, decided to strip things back when they tackled “Memory” for their 2004 DVD We Will Take You With Us. Perhaps surprisingly, their version isn’t exactly a million miles away from Babs’ and Barry’s.
America’s Got Talent graduate Jackie Evancho was just eight years old when she recorded “Memory” for her debut album Prelude to a Dream. But for some time, her parents weren’t particularly keen on anyone hearing it. Following their daughter’s runner-up placing on the NBC talent show in 2010, Michael and Lisa Evancho decided to withdraw the independently released LP from sale. The couple claimed that the youngster’s vocal prowess had vastly improved in the subsequent three years. But as the record is now available to stream on most services, they appear to have since relented.
“Memory” plays a big part in the story of Susan Boyle’s remarkable rise to worldwide fame in 2009. The Scottish singer made it to the final of Britain’s Got Talent thanks to a triumphant performance of the showtune. And she recorded the track four years later for her fourth consecutive U.S. top 20 album, Standing Ovation: Greatest Songs from the Stage. The artist famously dubbed SuBo had regularly spoken about her admiration for the song’s original performer, Elaine Paige, and in 2009 joined her on stage for a duet of the Chess number “I Know Him So Well.”
Cast of Glee
Glee‘s wheels may have already well and truly fallen off by the time it added “Memory” to its exhausting discography. But fifth season episode “Old Dog, New Tricks” showed that Ryan Murphy’s bonkers musical comedy could still occasionally hit the right notes. Here, Chris Colfer’s aspiring Broadway star Kurt joins forces with June Squibb’s retired stage veteran Maggie for a touching performance of the Cats classic from two singers at opposite ends of their showbiz journeys.
In 2014, Nicole Scherzinger became the first of several contemporary pop acts to assume the role of Grizabella on the stage. The Pussycat Doll even picked up a prestigious Laurence Olivier Award nomination for best supporting actress, while “as good as you’ll ever hear” was how Andrew Lloyd Webber described her powerhouse rendition of its climactic number. Scherzinger had previously covered the ballad as a duet with popera sensations Il Divo for their 2013 LP A Musical Affair.
Scherzinger was all set to reprise the role on the Broadway stage in 2016, too, before pulling out over a behind-the-scenes dispute. Leona Lewis, the X Factor U.K. winner who topped the charts on both side of the Atlantic with “Bleeding Love,” gladly stepped into her shoes at the last minute. Lewis received praise for the kind of vocal performance that briefly saw her hailed as the new Mariah in the mid-’00s. But her take on “Memory” was also criticized for lacking the grittiness such a tragic song needs.
Elsewhere, Girls Aloud’s Kimberley Walsh ditched the innovative pure pop of her girl band days for the sounds of musical theatre on her 2013 solo debut Centre Stage, covering “Memory” and another Lloyd Webber number, “Another Suitcase in Another Hall,” from Evita. Neighbours actress-turned-piano balladeer Delta Goodrem followed in Scherzinger’s footsteps when she performed the track as Grizabella in a 2015 production which toured across Australia. Underrated soul diva Beverley Knight also belted out the showtune during a revival at the London Palladium that same year before officially recording the track in 2017 with Glee graduate Amber Riley and West End star Cassidy Janson under the guise of Leading Ladies.