Andrew Lloyd Webber Isn't Sweating the 'Cats' Movie

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Taylor Swift - Cats - Publicity Still  - Inset - H 2019
Courtesy of Universal Pictures

The stage musical maestro collaborated with pop star Taylor Swift on "Beautiful Ghosts" for Tom Hooper's film adaptation, which hits theaters Dec. 20.

Taylor Swift teaming up with Andrew Lloyd Webber on a new song for Cats — Universal's adaptation of the Broadway hit — sounds like, well, awards-season catnip. But Webber, the British musical theater legend and creator and composer of the original production, told THR that he's not stressing over their ballad becoming a part of the trophy race.

"Of course we'd love it to be noticed and we'd love to have an Oscar, but it wasn't the first thing on our minds when we sat down and wrote it," says Webber, who won (with Tim Rice) the Oscar for original song for "You Must Love Me" from 1996's Evita. "It's because the movie actually needs a song."

The haunting new tune, "Beautiful Ghosts," is sung by the graceful white cat Victoria (played by newcomer Francesca Hayward), a feline character with nary a solo line in the original play. But the character has been substantially expanded and is now the main protagonist in Tom Hooper's movie adaptation that also stars Ian McKellen, James Corden, Jennifer Hudson and Judi Dench.

"When I read the screenplay, I said, 'This is really interesting, but there's nothing that this character [Victoria] sings,' " says Webber. "Seems to me, if we're going to use her as the eyes through which everything is seen, at some point we have to hear something from her point of view."

He explains that "Beautiful Ghosts," with Swift's lyrics, offers an inspirational counterpoint to the washed-up glamour cat Grizabella and her touching ballad "Memory," perhaps the most iconic song from the stage musical.

"What she's saying is 'OK, it's all very well for you. But you're looking back on a life where you did have something wonderful. You were glamorous. You had beautiful ghosts. I've had nothing at all. I've been abandoned,' " he says. "Victoria is saying, 'Maybe one day I will dance as you did.' "

While the first trailer for Cats, which features the actors transformed into cats with the use of digital fur technology, created quite a stir on the internet, Webber is backing Hooper's take. "Cats was a wildly theatrical show," he says. "What I'm hoping is Tom achieves something that's as exciting on the screen as it was onstage and has the controversial impact we had years ago. It would have been wrong for the movie to be faithful to what we did in 1981, when dance was different and much else was different. So it's with my blessing that it has moved on."

This story first appeared in a December stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.