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“Cats” Made Me Despise Musical Theater — And Love It

I found it so over-the-top, so unstoppable -- so contrived -- and then I sat down and watched it.

Laura Jaye Cramer  |  Oct 15th 2015


Growing up, I went to an arts high school, which might sound very prim and hoity toity, but it pretty much just means that during my adolescence I was viciously encouraged to play up any and all of my eccentricities in the name of performance art, and that I haven’t taken an actual math class since I was 12 years old. It also means that I spent the majority of my youth surrounded by like-minded weirdos who, in between picking food from their braces and researching the fastest ways to get rid of acne, would spout pretentious opinions about Van Gogh and Pavarotti.

As a general rule, teenagers are all awful. But you don’t know awful teens until you’ve spent time around the ones who attend arts school. Still, even among the worst of the worst, the musical theater kids stood out like some sort of bleak beacon of horribleness. Never ones to be ignored, they would descend through the halls in choreographed packs, belting out show tune after show tune after show tune. Their weapon of choice? Cats, The Musical.

At this time, Cats had reached peak world domination mode. It had won every award, had gotten every rave review, had became some wild money-making machine. Why is this relevant? Overall, it’s not my M.O. to ridicule things that people have spent time and effort putting together simply because it might not be my particular taste — especially if it’s something that obviously is doing so well. But. Come. On. A musical where adults sing and dance around about being cats? I hated the entire thing. I hated hearing my classmates screech it out every five seconds. I hated Andrew Lloyd Webber for having written it. And I vowed to never watch the musical in its entirety.

Ugh. Why?

Ugh. Why?

Fast-forward 100 years (give or take) to present-day, and the angst from my teenage years has subsided as much as I think is genetically possible. I’ve realized that musicals are not the work of the devil and that Andrew Lloyd Webber probably wasn’t trying to kill me. But it wasn’t until recently, sick with the flu and spiraling into a never-ending YouTube binge, that I thought specifically about Cats. In some sort of NyQuil induced haze, I found myself clicking on clip after clip of the 1998 DVD version of the musical that had appeared in my “Recommended For You!” feed. A few million clips in, I froze in horror.

I was enjoying this.

What was happening? Was it the flu medication, or was my little ice heart actually melting? Had I somehow managed to zombie-crawl through a life of cat-loving and art-loving without ever having experienced this strange gem of a show? And so, in a move that was equal parts curiosity and fear, I hunkered down on my couch to watch the entire thing.

For those of you who, like me, weren’t familiar, the story goes a little something like this: A group of junkyard felines each explain why they should be one cat chosen by their leader to go to kitty heaven.

What? Lost you already? Stay with me. It’s amazing.

In place of a legitimate plot, the show revolves around a series of heaven-audition vignettes where each cat shows her or his personality.

There’s a ballerina type that I call Ol’ Twinkle Toes, who I assume will turn out to be mean or boring (or both) because she’s the prettiest one.

cats-musical-twinkle-toes

I don’t care how much she made. This actress deserves a raise for wearing a WHITE UNITARD.

There’s a sexy sort of rock star cat who is exactly Tim Curry as Frank N. Furter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but in a cat costume.

cats-musical-frank-n-furter

Me-ow, indeed.

I’m 100 percent rooting for him, as growing up, I had a framed photo of Frank N. Furter next to my bed that my parents politely pretended not to notice for almost a decade. When the Cats equivalent character does his song and dance, all of the cats swoon like they’re me watching Rocky Horror for the first time. It takes me back.

The-Rocky-Horror-Picture-Show

Be still, my heart.

Next up is a gross old mop that shuffles around onstage:

cats-musical-mop

Before Swiffer dominated the market with those sexy, minimal mops.

IMDB tells me that Mop is actually Elaine Paige in the role of Grizabella. But I’m all about calling a spade a spade, so Mop it is. Mop is wildly unpopular with her fellow cats (presumably because she has an uglier outfit than the other cats — which seems pretty judgmental coming from a crew of animals who live in a pile of garbage, but whatever). She is also the gal who cry-sings her way through “Memories.” Unfortunately, if you’re anything like me, you will also never, ever be able to take it seriously after hearing so many parody versions of the song that change the lyrics to reference a certain gland on the female anatomy. If you’re not like me and have a shred of respect or maturity, you’ll probably enjoy the song, as it is actually quite beautiful.

The pinnacle of the show revolves around the king of the junkyard. He is — and I mean this as the highest compliment — like Moses and Chewbacca rolled into one amazing creature. He says about two words and all of the the cats hypnotically lift up their paws to him, ready to drink the punch. (And honestly, he’s so regal that I’m hypnotically lifting up my paws to the T.V., suddenly thirsty.)

cats-musical-moses-02

Whatever you say, Jim Jones.

cats-musical-moses-01

When I come to, the cats are plowing their way through the showiest dance number that has ever been. I don’t know if I’m still in shock from meeting Moses, or if I’m just blown away by this wild choreography. But as I watch, I jot down notes in preparation of writing this. It might be the NyQuil talking, but I have exactly one note for this section, and it says, “I think I’m hallucinating,” and there’s a weird, crooked smiley face next to it.

By the time the show winds down, I’m completely obsessed. Mop and Moses are holding each other’s paws with fervor. Each cat is gasping for air and sweating through amazing furry legwarmers. I’ve found a backup in Frank N. Furter: Cat Edition just in case things don’t end up working out between Tim Curry and me. I (probably) won’t cringe every time I hear the name Andrew Lloyd Webber. There isn’t a dry eye in my living room. And I can to feel the grudge that I’ve had against every musical theater kid in high school ever-so-slightly begin to lift.

Read more by Laura Jaye Cramer

About the author: Laura Jaye Cramer is a freelance writer and ballet dancer based out of San Francisco. When she isn’t busy tending to her sweet little cat baby, she can be found drooling over artifacts in a museum, building a shrine to Dolly Parton, or eating a trough of guacamole. Stalk her on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.