30 Days Of The 2014 Tony Awards: Day #22 - CATS
Today we continue the 2014 edition of our annual BroadwayWorld feature series spotlighting the very best Tony Awards-related moments of all time with a special focus on a multi-Tony Award-winning Broadway musical unlike any other, CATS.
The Jellicle Ball
Just as JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR tackled a sacrosanct subject in an edgy new way and EVITA daringly took on South American politics and its leaders, Andrew Lloyd Webber's next anomalous musical foray was inspired by the unlikeliest of sources, as well - a book of poems. Not only was it based on a book of poems, but a book of poems by T.S. Eliot ostensibly all about cats, no less. Yes, cats. Onstage. Live. Many scoffed at the mere general notion of the musical back in 1980 when Lloyd Webber began seeking out potential investors for a West End production of the piece, and, to this day, many still poke fun at the concept of the mega-musical that came to be known as CATS. Honestly, a musical about cats starring people dressed up like them? As outlandish as it might have seemed at the time, young producer Cameron Mackintosh saw something worthwhile in pursuing it and set out to produce the musical anyway - with no less than acclaimed stage icon Judi Dench in the lead role.
Yet, just as Mackintosh's own MISS SAIGON would eventually be besotted with obstacles on its way to the West End and Broadway stage, so, too, was CATS dealt a particularly precarious blow when Dench sprained her ankle in rehearsals, disallowing her from further participating in the production. What to do?! Well, hire the star of your last musical mega-hit, of course - in this case, the astonishingly gifted Elaine Paige, original West End Eva in Lloyd Webber's EVITA. At a moment's notice, Paige agreed and stepped into the furry slippers of feline grande dame Grizabella and the rest, they say, is history. Also in the original West End company, incidentally, was a young Sarah Brightman, who would go on not only to marry the composer of CATS, but also act as his muse and the inspiration for his most successful musical to date, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, a few years later.
For Broadway, Lloyd Webber and Mackintosh nabbed another leading lady of the highest order to portray Grizabella, this one looking to break out of a long-running TV show association byway of EIGHT IS ENOUGH - the vocally commanding and fiercely idiosyncratic Betty Buckley. Sending the show's most memorable musical moment, "Memory", into the stratosphere, Buckley made Broadway history and took home a well-earned Best Featured Actress In A Musical Tony Award for her efforts. Additionally, the musical took home many top prizes, as well, including Best Musical.
So, now, let's time travel back to the original Broadway production of CATS and see the cast's performance on that year's Tony Awards.
Also, view Betty Buckley's heartfelt acceptance speech.
As a special bonus, watch genial emcee Rosie O'Donnell joining some furry friends for a CATS homage in 1997.
What precisely is it about the frolicking, rollicking nature of CATS that makes it an enduring classic more than 30 years after its premiere? Furthermore, what leading lady makes "Memory" your favorite one of them all? With the leaps and bounds in advancing technology in the intervening years, it seems likely we will see an all-new take on CATS on Broadway before too long. Until then, at least we have the memories.