Cats, the wildly popular and well-known Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, shattered box office records around the globe. Despite being largely panned by critics, Cats is one of the most beloved musicals with legions of adoring fans listening to the songs and keeping the story alive long after the stage lights have gone down.
The History of Cats: A Feline Timeline
No one would have guessed that a play about cats would do so well, but the following timeline shows how something so unusual took the world by storm:
- 1978-1979: As noted in the book Andrew Lloyd Webber by John Snelson, stage musical writer extraordinaire Andrew Lloyd Webber composes Cats in the late '70s after his 1978 hit Evita, despite intense resistance and skepticism. It is inspired by T.S. Elliot's 1939 poetry collection Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. Memory, the most famous song from Cats, is based on the Elliot poem, Rhapsody on a Windy Night.
- May 11, 1981: Cats opens at London's West End New London Theatre. Elaine Paige and Ken Page play the lead roles of Grizabella and Old Deuteronomy. Cameron MacKintosh and Webber's Really Useful Theatre Company produce with Trevor Nunn directing and Gillian Lynne choreographing.
- October 7, 1982: The same London team brings Cats to Broadway, and it becomes one of the longest running musicals on Broadway stages, second only to Webber's legendary Phantom of the Opera.
- 1983 Tony awards: Cats wins six trophies, for Best Musical, Best Direction of a Musical, Best Original Score, Best Book of a Musical, Best Lighting Design of a Musical, Best Featured Actress in a Musical, and Best Costume Design of a Musical.
- 1989: The London production of Cats surpasses Jesus Christ Superstar as the longest-running British production of a musical. It holds that distinction until 2006, when it is overtaken by Les Misérables.
- 1998: Webber produces a video version of the stage show, which is released in 1998. Elaine Paige and Ken Page revive their starring roles for the film.
- September 10, 2000: Cats finally closes with an amazing run of 7,485 performances on Broadway.
- May 11, 2001: Cats closes in London on the 21st anniversary of its opening night after running 8,949 times. The final performance is televised live to an audience in Covent Garden.
- July 31, 2016: A revival of Cats opens on Broadway. In the summer of 2017, it is announced that the Cats revival will perform its last show in December 2017.
Besides its recent revival, Cats lives on in regional theater throughout the world, and the play has been translated into 22 languages and performed innumerable times.
The plot of Cats, while not complex with twists and turns like most dramatic narratives, succeeds as a gripping parade of personalities.
The story begins with the gathering of the Jellicle cats, a tribe of cats who are meeting for their annual Jellicle Ball. During this celebration, the patriarch of the tribe, Old Deuteronomy, will choose one of the cats to ascend to Heaviside Layer to be reborn with an extra cat life. As the gathering unfolds, Grizabella, the so-called "Glamour Cat," returns to the tribe after many years away spent exploring the world. Grizabella, older and wiser now, hopes her tribe will welcome her return, but to her dismay they shun her. In her sorrow she laments the time that has passed in her life with the famous song Memory.
However, an awful event interrupts the gathering. A band of rebel felines kidnap Old Deuteronomy. The Jellicles tribe, in their desperation, turns to Magical Mr. Mistoffelees to use his powers to bring Old Deuteronomy back to the Jellicles so the Jellicle Ball can be completed and he can choose a cat to be given an extra life.
The songs in Cats have become some of the most famous and loved musical theater songs of all time, including these well-known tunes:
- Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats: The opening song of the musical proves to be one of its catchiest, with its asymmetrical rhythmic feel strengthened by the way the singers change their emphasis and pronunciation of the word "jellicle" to match with the music's rhythmic figures.
- The Rum Tum Tugger: This song introduces the Elvis-like bad boy character of Rum Tum Tugger and an irresistible melody to the words "Rum Tum Tugger is a curious cat."
- Macavity the Mystery Cat: Introduced in song by Demeter, "Macavity" is described as an evil, hard-to-predict cat of depravity to the cabaret-like tune of a sultry jazz ballad.
- Mr. Mistoffelees: Sung by Rum Tum Tugger to try to convince the tribe of Mr. Mistoffelees' magical powers, the funky rock song has one of the catchiest hooks of the musical when Rum Tum Tugger sings "as magical Mister Mistoffelees."
- Memory: Certainly one of the most famous songs to ome from musicals, a song that most people have heard or heard about even if they're not fans of musicals, it displays Andrew Lloyd Webber's amazing gift for heart wrenching melody. The song is foreshadowing for the slow, haunting operatic style that Webber would use abundantly in Phantom of the Opera years later.
- Old Deuteronomy: The moderate tempo ballad has a methodical, plodding style that suits its formal introduction of the leader of the tribe. Its melodic scale, however, introduces some exotic notes that give the song a sense of mystery and grandeur--a perfect description of the great old cat who leads the Jellicles.
Streaming and Downloading the Music
Besides the official Cats YouTube page, you can listen or download songs from Cats at the following sites:
- Pandora's Cats station: The Pandora's curated Broadway Cats station selects the finest recordings of the musical and presents a nice variety. You can listen for free without limitation by signing up for free. To play Pandora without ads, you can upgrade to their PLUS version, which is $4.99 per month.
- Apple Music: Apple's streaming service gives you access to Apple's entire music library for $9.99 per month. This gives you unfettered access to every Broadway Cats recording in the iTunes store.
- Amazon Digital Music: If you're not an Apple user, you can purchase mp3s a la cart from Amazon Digital, which features a large selection of Broadway Cats albums.
A Timeless Classic
With so many places to enjoy one of the greatest musicals of all time, you will have cats jumping, spinning and dancing through your head for days on end.