Yes, CATS Has A Plot: What You Need To Know About Andrew Lloyd Webber's Hit Musical
There are few topics that I feel that I am more qualified to talk about than Andrew Lloyd Webber's global phenomenon musical, CATS.
Following the release of the upcoming film version's trailer, the internet was swiftly divided between those who disliked it simply because it's CATS, and those who found the images distressing or nightmare-inducing.
For me, self-appointed, unofficial president of the CATS fan club, the release of the trailer was better than Christmas morning, even if it's not the CATS that I know and love. I'm still very excited to see one of my favorite musicals get a reimagining on the big screen.
However, one of the most common misconceptions about the musical is that it doesn't have a plot, and Twitter was quick to denounce the musical's book when the trailer dropped.
CATS HAS NO PLOT THAT'S THE POINT- Emily Whalen ?i??? (@emilyjwhalen) July 19, 2019
CGI fur? Dancing cats? No plot? Have you never heard of the musical #CATS? That's all it is! But it's fun - why do you hate fun?!?- Jay (@austinja) July 19, 2019
1) Cats has no plot. Everyone knows this. Who made a #CatsMovie based on a play with no plot?- Cosette Bobb (@singitcookie) July 19, 2019
2) Who decided to use CGI to attempt a character design that the play did better with only makeup? Just put MAKEUP on the ACTORS your movie looks awful.
My dad: "i saw Cats on broadway in the 80s:- Nicole Odeon (@niktoon) July 23, 2019
Me: "So what exactly is the plot?"
Dad: "i have no idea."
I'm going to set the record straight once and for all, and explain the timely and intricate story of CATS.
The musical CATS is about a tribe of Jellicle cats (all cats are Jellicle cats, anyone who says otherwise is mistaken) who come together once a year under the Jellicle moon to pick which cat amongst them will be reborn to a new Jellicle life and ascend to the Heaviside Layer.
In turn we meet a number of cats who tell us their stories and give us their best pitches as to why they should be the one chosen. As you watch, you come to realize that a number of them probably don't need to be reborn, others don't deserve it, and still some haven't even given their pitches much thought.
The cats that you meet (re: have their own song) in the most recent Broadway production included:
Old Deuteronomy - He's in charge of all the cats, and ultimately allows the chosen cat to be reborn. He's buried 9 wives according to his song, so we're led to believe he no longer has any rebirths left if you subscribe to the theory that cats have nine lives.
Munkustrap - the leader of the pack, Old Deuteronomy's right hand feline. He never makes a pitch for himself to be reborn, but he does sing an ode to Jennyanydots, the cat that he has in mind to be reborn.
Jennyanydots - the mom friend of all the cats. She's deeply concerned with the ways of the mice and teaches them a number of useful skills. She's also a killer tap dancer, but loves sitting down and napping.
Rum Tum Tugger - He's a rockstar cat. He gets his own song, but at no point do we really think that he's the one who should be reborn.
Grizabella - Spoiler alert: She's the one who gets reborn. She makes multiple appearances throughout the show, each time being shunned by the other cats for her physical appearance.
Bustopher Jones - this cat just likes to eat. There's not much more to him than that!
Gus - This is Grizabella's fiercest competition to be reborn. If CATS was a reality TV show, they'd be the ones squaring off in the grand finale. He's an old school, thespian cat, who's had a great career.
Truly, he deserved it more than Grizabella, and was cheated out of the top prize because Grizabella has a better belt. Since when is belting one of the top criteria for being reborn?
Macavity - he's the criminal cat who kidnaps Old Deuteronomy. He's definitely not getting reborn.
Skimbleshanks - This is a very good cat. He keeps England's train schedule running like clockwork - and sings one of the show's best bops.
Mr. Mistoffelees - This is the cat that manages to conjure back Old Deuteronomy after he's been kidnapped. He's basically a kitten though, so he doesn't need to be reborn quite yet, but he does get the show's best bop sung about him by Rum Tum Tugger.
Throughout the musical, all of the good cats (Macavity is not invited) participate in the Jellicle ball and are welcomed - except for one - Grizabella. She is shunned by the tribe due to her age and physical appearance.
Grizabella tries to join the ball three times throughout the show. First, she shows up after Rum Tum Tugger, but none of the other cats will dance with her.
Then, she appears again during "The Jellicle Ball" dance sequence, but again the other cats try to send her away. They hiss at her and make known her presence is unwelcome. She sings of past memories, dances on her own, and makes the case for her rebirth but nobody is around to listen.
Finally, Grizabella comes back once more as the ball comes to a close, and a cat is going to be chosen for a new Jellicle life. This time she sings "Memory," and the other cats finally listen - and realize that despite her haggard and aged appearance, she too is worthy of love, kindness, and respect.
Then, the other cats decide that she is the one who should be reborn, and Old Deuteronomy takes her to the Heaviside Layer.
At its core, CATS is a musical about accepting one another despite our differences in appearance. The musical tells this story through expositional singing and intricate movement, with sections like "The Jellicle Ball" moving much of the story forward through movement alone.
In musical theater, a character sings when their emotional state is so great that they can no longer speak. Therefore, they must dance when even singing cannot fully express how they're feeling.
Few shows are able to truly integrate dance as part of the storytelling. I think that CATS does that at its best, and may even surpass classics like "West Side Story" in the skillful use of movement to show audiences what's happening.
Whatever your thoughts on the musical and its quality, it most definitely has a plot. It may not be everyone's cup of tea, but the show has played over 8,107 performances between the original production and revival productions on Broadway alone, not to mention many more on tour and around the world.
So, CATS can't possibly be as controversial as social media has made it out to be over the past week.