Cats (musical) facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
Koty AgnieszkaJaroszynska RobertAdamczewski
Etcetera (front) and Alonzo in the Polish production, December 2007.

Cats is a musical composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber, based on Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot, and produced by Cameron Mackintosh. The musical tells the story of a tribe of cats called the Jellicles and the night they make what is known as "the Jellicle choice" and decide which cat will ascend to the Heaviside Layer and come back to a new life. Cats introduced the song standard "Memory". The first performance of Cats was in 1981.

Directed by Trevor Nunn and choreographed by Gillian Lynne, Cats first opened in the West End in 1981 and then with the same creative team on Broadway in 1982. It won numerous awards, including Best Musical at both the Laurence Olivier Awards and the Tony Awards. The London production ran for twenty-one years and the Broadway production ran for eighteen years, both setting new records. Actresses Elaine Paige and Betty Buckley became particularly associated with the musical. One actress, Marlene Danielle, performed in the Broadway production for its entire run (from 1982 until 2000).

As of 2016, Cats is the fourth-longest-running show in Broadway history, and was the longest running Broadway show in history from 1997 to 2006 when it was surpassed by The Phantom of the Opera. Cats is the sixth-longest-running West End musical. It has been performed around the world many times and has been translated into more than 20 languages. In 1998, Cats was turned into a made-for-television film.

Production history

Composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber, the production of Cats is based on T. S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats (1939), which the composer recalled as having been a childhood favorite. The songs of the musical comprise Eliot's verse set to music by the composer, the principal exception being the most famous song from the musical, "Memory", for which the lyrics were written by Trevor Nunn after an Eliot poem entitled "Rhapsody on a Windy Night". Also, a brief song entitled "The Moments of Happiness" was taken from a passage in Eliot's Four Quartets. Andrew Lloyd Webber began composing the songs in late 1977 and premiered the compositions at the Sydmonton Festival in 1980. The concert was attended by T.S. Eliot's wife, Valerie Eliot and she loved the songs that Webber had composed. She gave her blessing for the songs to be adapted into a musical stage play. Rehearsals for the musical began in early 1981 at the New London Theatre. Due to the Eliot estate asserting that they write no script and only use the original poems as the text, the musical had no identified plot during the rehearsal process, causing many actors to be confused about what they were actually doing. An unusual musical in terms of its construction, the overture incorporates a fugue and there are occasions when the music accompanies spoken verse. The show is completely told through music with virtually no spoken dialogue in between the songs. Dance is also a key element in the musical especially during the 10-minute Jellicle Ball dance sequence. The set, consisting of an oversized junk yard, remains the same throughout the show without any scene changes. Lloyd Webber's eclecticism is very strong here; musical genres range from classical to pop, music hall, jazz, rock and electro-acoustic music as well as hymn-like songs such as "The Addressing of Cats".

Cats premiered in the West End at the New London Theatre on May 11, 1981. There was trouble initially as Judi Dench, cast in the role of Grizabella, snapped her Achilles tendon during rehearsals prior to the London opening. She was replaced by Elaine Paige. The musical was produced by Cameron Mackintosh and Lloyd Webber's Really Useful Group, directed by Trevor Nunn, with associate director and choreographer Gillian Lynne, design by John Napier, and lighting by David Hersey. The conductor was Harry Rabinowicz. It played a total of 8,949 performances in London. Its final performance in London's West End was on its 21st birthday, 11 May 2002, and broadcast on a large screen in Covent Garden to the delight of fans who could not acquire a ticket for the final performance. It held the record as London's longest running musical until 8 October 2006, when it was surpassed by Les Misérables.

CatsOriginalLondonCast
The original 1981 London cast of Cats

The show made its debut on Broadway on 7 October 1982, at the Winter Garden Theatre with the same production team. On 19 June 1997, Cats became the longest-running musical in Broadway history with 6,138 performances. It closed on 10 September 2000, after a total of 7,485 performances. Its Broadway record was surpassed on 9 January 2006 by The Phantom of the Opera. It remains Broadway's fourth-longest-running show in history. Lloyd Webber stated that when the original show was produced, it cost £900,000, but on Broadway, it cost $5,000,000.

In 1998, Lloyd Webber produced a video version of Cats, based upon the stage version, starring Elaine Paige, who originated the role of Grizabella in London; Ken Page, who originated Old Deuteronomy on Broadway; Sir John Mills as Gus; Michael Gruber as Munkustrap; John Partridge as The Rum Tum Tugger; Jo Gibb as Rumpelteazer with many of the dancers and singers drawn largely from various stage productions of the show. It was directed by David Mallet, with choreography and musical staging by the show's respected original creator Gillian Lynne in London's Adelphi Theatre, and was released on VHS and DVD, as well as broadcast on television worldwide. Andrew Lloyd Webber and others on the production team for the film wanted to keep the feeling that viewers watching the film could still get the sense of seeing the show live, by having all views be facing the stage, therefore, getting multiple views of the set, with several close-ups. Beyond the productions in England, the US, Canada, and Australia, the musical has been produced professionally in Hungary, Austria, and Japan, 1983; Sydney and Toronto, 1985; Germany, 1986; France, 1989; Mexico, 1991; Netherlands, 1992; Argentina, 1993; Hong Kong, 1994; Spain, 2003; Poland and Czech Republic, 2004; Russia and Estonia, 2005; Israel, Taiwan, Thailand, South Korea, China and Finland, 2007; Singapore, Hong Kong, Dominican Republic, Norway, Sweden, South Africa, China, Italy, Bulgaria and Japan, 2009; and Brazil and the Philippines, 2010. Cats has been translated into over 20 languages.

Synopsis

Act I — When Cats Are Maddened by the Midnight Dance

Koty musical
The Jellicle cats gather every year to make the "Jellicle Choice", and decide which cat will ascend to the Heaviside Layer and come back to a new life.

After the overture, the Cats gather on stage and explain the Jellicle tribe and its purpose ("Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats"). The Cats (who break the fourth wall throughout the production) then notice that they are being watched by a man, and proceed to explain how the different Cats of the tribe are named ("The Naming of Cats"). This is followed by a dance from Victoria the White Cat that signals the beginning of the Jellicle Ball ("The Invitation to the Jellicle Ball"). Munkustrap (the wise second-in-command of the Jellicle tribe) explains that tonight, the Jellicle leader, Old Deuteronomy, will choose a cat to be reborn into a new life on the Heaviside Layer.

Munkustrap introduces Jennyanydots ("The Old Gumbie Cat"), a large tabby cat. She "sits and sits and sits and sits" all day, while at night she teaches the mice and cockroaches various activities. Jennyanydots finishes her song and greets the other cats, but is interrupted. The music changes suddenly and The Rum Tum Tugger makes an extravagant entrance ("The Rum Tum Tugger"). He is very fickle and unappeasable, "for he will do as he do do, and there's no doing anything about it".

As Rum Tum Tugger's song fades, a shabby old grey cat stumbles out and looks around; it is Grizabella. All the Cats back away from her in fear and disgust and sing of her unfortunate state ("Grizabella: The Glamour Cat"). Grizabella leaves and the music changes to a cheerful upbeat number as Bustopher Jones, a fat cat in "a coat of fastidious black", appears ("Bustopher Jones: The Cat About Town"). Bustopher Jones is among the elite of the cats, and visits prestigious gentlemen's clubs. Suddenly, a loud crash then startles the tribe and the Cats run off the stage in fright. Hushed giggling signals the entrance of Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer, a pair of near-identical Cats. They are petty burglars, very mischievous, and they enjoy causing trouble for human families ("Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer").

Finally, the Jellicle patriarch, Old Deuteronomy, appears ("Old Deuteronomy"). He is a large old Cat that "has lived many lives" and "buried nine wives (And more, I am tempted to say—ninety-nine)". He is the Cat who will choose which Jellicle Cat will go to the Heaviside Layer. After rejoicing to their leader's arrival, the Cats put on a play ("The Awefull Battle of the Pekes and the Pollicles") for Old Deuteronomy. It is a story about two dog tribes clashing in the street and subsequently being scared away by the Great Rumpus Cat, a cat with flashing red eyes. After a moral from Old Deuteronomy about the destiny of Jellicle Cats and Pollicle Dogs, a second loud crash, presumably from Macavity, sends the alarmed Cats scurrying. Old Deuteronomy calls the Cats back and the main celebration begins ("The Jellicle Ball"), in which the cats sing and display their "Terpsichorean powers".

During the Ball, Grizabella reappears and tries to dance along, but her age and decrepit condition prevent her from doing so. Once again, she is shunned by the other Cats, but that does not stop her from singing a short version of "Memory'".

Act II — Why Will the Summer Day Delay — When Will Time Flow Away?

Koty ZMacias IZając
After addressing the gathering by singing "Memory", Grizabella is chosen to be reborn into a new Jellicle life.

After the Jellicle Ball, Old Deuteronomy sings of "what happiness is", referring to Grizabella. The Cats do not understand, so he repeats the message again and Jemima (or Sillabub, depending on the production) sings it in simpler terms ("The Moments of Happiness"). Gus — short for Asparagus — shuffles forward ("Gus: The Theatre Cat"). He was once a famous actor but is now old and "suffers from palsy which makes his paws shake." He is accompanied by Jellylorum, who tells of his exploits. Gus then remembers how he once played the infamous Growltiger, the Terror of the Thames ("Growltiger's Last Stand"). He tells the story about the pirate's romance with Griddlebone and how he was overtaken by the Siamese and forced to walk the plank.

Back in the present, after Gus exits, Skimbleshanks is seen sleeping in the corner ("Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat"). He is the Cat who is unofficially in charge of the night train to Glasgow. Skimbleshanks is considered vital to the train, as without him "the train can't start". Within his song, a whole steam train engine is assembled out of objects in the junkyard: Various Cats spin wheels, hold up the structure, and light the headlights.

With a third crash and an evil laugh, the "most wanted" cat Macavity appears. He is a "master criminal" and is never found at the scene of the crime. Macavity's minions throw a net over Old Deuteronomy and capture him. As the other Cats try to follow him, Demeter and Bombalurina sing what they know about Macavity ("Macavity: The Mystery Cat"). When they are finished, Macavity returns disguised as Old Deuteronomy, but when Demeter blows his cover, Macavity ends up fighting with Munkustrap and Alonzo. Though Macavity holds his own for a time, the rest of the tribe begin to gang up and surround him, but he shorts out the stage lights as an attempt to escape in the confusion.

After the fight, Rum Tum Tugger suggests that the Cats should find a local magician named Mr. Mistoffelees "the original conjuring cat" for help. ("Magical Mr. Mistoffelees"). Mr. Mistoffelees is small and black and can perform feats of magic that no other Cat can do. Mr. Mistoffelees soon arrives just in time as he performs his dance, which is often one of the most intricate and challenging dance solos in the show. The magical Cat restores the lights and brings back Old Deuteronomy, earning praise from all the Cats. The Jellicle Choice can now be made.

After Old Deuteronomy sits down, Grizabella returns to the junkyard and he allows her to address the gathering. Her faded appearance and lonely disposition have little effect on her song ("Memory"). With acceptance and encouragement from Jemima and Victoria, her appeal succeeds and she is chosen to be the one to go to the Heaviside Layer and be reborn to a new Jellicle life ("Journey to the Heaviside Layer"). A large tire rises from the piles of junk, carrying Grizabella and Old Deuteronomy partway toward the sky; he then steps off so she can finish the journey on her own. Finally, Old Deuteronomy gives his closing speech to the human audience ("The Ad-dressing of Cats") and the show comes to a close.

Characters

Principal characters

Koty IzaBujniewicz WojtekSocha
Jennyanydots (Left) and Skimbleshanks in the Polish production of Cats, December 2007.
  • Asparagus / Gus – An elderly actor, known as "the Theatre cat".
  • Bombalurina – A red queen with a flame-colored pelt and an interest in the Rum Tum Tugger. She sings "Macavity" alongside Demeter and is 1 third of the "Gumbie trio" with Jellylorum and Demeter.
  • Bustopher Jones – A fat cat respected by all, as the upper-class "St. James's Street Cat." He is described as "the Brummell of cats" due to his immaculate pelt, which resembles a tuxedo and spats. In most productions, the actor playing Gus also plays Bustopher, though in early productions the part was handled by the actor playing Old Deuteronomy.
  • Demeter – A skittish queen. She sings "Macavity" alongside Bombalurina and is 1 third of the "Gumbie trio" with Jellylorum and Bombalurina.
  • Griddlebone – Growltiger's lover in Growltiger's Last Stand, in which she sings The Ballad of Billy M'Caw or the mock Italian aria In Una Tepida Notte (depending on production).
  • Grizabella – A former "glamour cat", ostracised by the Jellicles, who has lost her sparkle and now only wants to be accepted.
  • Growltiger – A theatrical character Gus recalls playing in his youth, and who appears in Gus' memory of the production of Growltiger's Last Stand. In some productions he is portrayed as a vicious pirate; in others, he is more comical.
  • Jellylorum – A queen who watches out for the kittens, along with Jennyanydots. She sings "Gus: The Theatre Cat". Named after T. S. Eliot's own cat.
  • Jemima – A kitten. She becomes the first cat to accept Grizabella when she sings alongside her in Memory (reprise) and sings a solo during The Moments of Happiness.
  • Jennyanydots – The old Gumbie cat. She sits all day and rules the mice and cockroaches at night, forcing them to undertake helpful functions and creative projects, to curb their naturally destructive habits.
  • Macavity – A notorious criminal known as The Napoleon of Crime. The character is a literary allusion to the Sherlock Holmes character Professor Moriarty.
  • Mr. Mistoffelees – A young tuxedo tom learning to control his magical powers. He is a featured dancer, performing a minimum of twenty-four fouettés en tournant during his number. Mistoffelees' chorus identity is sometimes known as Quaxo.
  • Mungojerrie – One half of a notorious duo of cat-burglars, with Rumpleteazer.
  • Munkustrap – The show's main narrator. A tabby tomcat who is storyteller and protector of the Jellicle tribe. He is Old Deuteronomy's second-in-command.
  • Old Deuteronomy – The elderly Jellicle Leader.
  • Rumpleteazer – One half of a notorious duo of cat-burglars, with Mungojerrie.
  • The Rum Tum Tugger – A flashy cat. His temperament ranges from clownish to serious.
  • Skimbleshanks – The railway cat. An active orange tabby cat, who lives on the trains and acts as an unofficial chaperone to such an extent he is considered rather indispensable to the train and station employees.
  • Victoria – A white kitten. She is a featured dancer, opening with a solo in "Invitation to the Jellicle Ball" and is the first character to touch Grizabella.

Cats (musical) Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.