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Cats is a musical composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber based on Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot. It introduced the song standard "Memory".
It is currently the 2nd longest-running show in Broadway history and the 4th longest-running show in musical theatre history.
The musical first opened in the West End in 1981 and then on Broadway in 1982. Each time directed by Trevor Nunn and choreographed by Gillian Lynne, it won numerous awards, including both the Laurence Olivier Award and the Tony Award for Best Musical. The London production ran for twenty one years and the Broadway production ran for eighteen years, both setting long-run 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 1982until 2000).
Cats has been performed around the world many times and has been translated into more than 20 languages. In 1998 it was also made into a television video.
Cats is based on Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats (1939), which the composer recalled as having been a childhood favourite. 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. An unusual musical in terms of its construction, the overture incorporates a fugue and there are occasions when the music accompanies spoken verse. 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 hymnal songs such as "The Addressing of Cats".
Cats premiered in the West End at the New London Theatre on 11 May 1981. There was trouble initially as Judi Dench, cast in the role of Grizabella, snapped a tendon during rehearsals prior to the London opening. The role of Grizabella was subsequently taken over by Elaine Paige. The role was beefed up for Paige and the song "Memory" (originally to be sung by Geraldine Gardner in the role of the red cat Bombalurina) was given to Paige. The musical was produced by Cameron Mackintosh and Lloyd Webber's Really Useful Group, directed by Trevor Nunn, with associate director and choreography by Gillian Lynne, design by John Napier and lighting by David Hersey. 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.
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 second 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.
Beyond the productions in Britain, the U.S., 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
Act I — When Cats are Maddened by the Midnight Dance After the overture, the Cats gather on stage and explain the Jellicle tribe and their purpose ('Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats'). The Cats spot the human audience and 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 and Munkustrap tells us that tonight is the night when Old Deuteronomy will choose a cat to be reborn into a new life on the Heaviside Layer.
Munkustrap appears and introduces Jennyanydots ('The Old Gumbie Cat'), a large tabby cat. She "sits and sits and sits" all day, while at night she rules over the mice and cockroaches, teaching various activities to them. Jennyanydots finishes, greets the other cats, but is interrupted. The music instantly changes, and The Rum Tum Tugger makes an extravagant entrance ('The Rum Tum Tugger'). The Tugger is a Tom with a wild mane and leopard spots on his chest. He is very fickle and unappeasable, "for he will do as he do do and there's no doing anything about it".
A shabby old grey cat stumbles out and looks around. It is Grizabella. All the cats back away. The cats sing of her saddened, unfortunate state ('Grizabella: The Glamour Cat'). Grizabella leaves and the music changes to a cheerful upbeat. 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 gentleman's clubs. A loud crash startles the tribe. Could this be Macavity? The cats run off the stage in fright. Hushed giggling signals the entrance of Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer, a pair of near-identical cats. They are petty burglars, very mischievous, and they enjoy causing trouble for human families ('Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer').
Finally, the Jellicle patriarch, Old Deuteronomy, shows up ('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 one who will choose which Jellicle cat will go to the Heaviside Layer. In most productions, at this point, the cats perform a song ('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 few words from Old Deuteronomy on the destiny of Jellicle Cats and Pollicle Dogs, a second loud crash, presumably from Macavity, sends the alarmed cats scurrying. But Old Deuteronomy calls them back and the main celebration begins ('The Jellicle Ball'), in which the cats sing, dance and display their "terpsichorean powers".
After the Ball, Grizabella reappears, refusing to be left out of the festivities. 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? After the Jellicle Ball, Old Deuteronomy sings of “what happiness is”, referring to Grizabella. This message naturally goes over everyone's heads, so he sends the message again and Jemima (or Sillabub, depending on the production) sings it for everyone to hear, ('The Moments of Happiness'). Gus — short for Asparagus — shuffles forward ('Gus: The Theatre Cat'). He is the cat that once was a famous actor but now he is 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, 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 sleeping in the corner ('Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat'), a cat who is unofficially in charge of the night train to Glasgow. He is very clever and very important because if he is gone “the train can’t start”.
With a third crash and an evil laugh, the "most wanted" cat, Macavity appears. He is a “master criminal” and never is found at the scene of the crime. He is a horrifying looking cat and a “villain” of the Jellicle Tribe. Macavity shows up and captures Old Deuteronomy. As the other cats try to follow him, Demeter and Bombalurina sing what they know about Macavity, as they have had some sort of past with him ('Macavity: The Mystery Cat'). When they are finished, Macavity returns disguised as Old Deuteronomy. When revealed by Demeter, he fights with Munkustrap and Alonzo.
Rum Tum Tugger suggests that the cats find Mr. Mistoffelees ('Magical Mr. Mistoffelees'). Mr. Mistoffelees is black and small and can perform many feats of magic that no other cat can do. The magical cat succeeds in bringing back Old Deuteronomy. He is praised by all the cats. The Jellicle choice can now be made.
Old Deuteronomy sits down and Grizabella appears for the final time. Old Deuteronomy allows her to have a chance to address the cats. Her faded appearance and lonely disposition have little effect on her song ('Memory'). With encouragement from Jemima and Victoria accepting her always, the appeal succeeds and she is chosen to be the one ('Journey to the Heaviside Layer'). A large tyre rises up with Old Deuteronomy and Grizabella. Once at the top Grizabella finishes the journey herself. Old Deuteronomy gives his closing speech to the human audience ('The Ad-dressing of Cats') and the show comes to a close.
Revisions to the show
Andrew Lloyd Webber revised the Growltiger's Last Stand sequence for the Broadway production of Cats. In the original London show, the duet for Growltiger and Griddlebone was a setting of an unpublished T.S. Eliot poem, "The Ballad of Billy M'Caw". For Broadway, he replaced the Ballad with a pastiche of Italian aria (reminiscent of Puccini's Madama Butterfly). This new version was subsequently incorporated into most productions of Cats worldwide (A notable exception was the Hungarian production at the Madách Színház in Budapest which opened in 1983 and is still running in repertory as of early 2008 celebrating its 25th anniversary on 25 March 2008, as the longest running musical in Hungarian theatre history. Production in Helsinki and Prague also used the original version.) The Ballad remained in the London production until some time in the early 1990s when it was replaced with the Italian aria pastiche. It was re-instated for the UK Tours, following the show's closure in London. Lloyd Webber has said that he is pleased with the reinstatement of The Ballad of Billy M'Caw as he didn't care for the "Italian aria" version. In the video version, the entire scene featuring Growltiger was cut out, due to John Mills' (Gus) old age.
The song "Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer" has had three different versions in the past. In the original London production, Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer sang their song in 12/8 time to a jazzy accompaniment. Andrew Lloyd Webber later wrote a new melody for the Broadway production, for Mr. Mistoffelees (also called Quaxo) to sing about Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer in the third person. The point of the scene on Broadway was to entertain Bustopher Jones. Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer were puppets being magically controlled by Mr. Mistoffelees/Quaxo. The tempo remained upbeat (now in 4/4 time, switching to 7/8 in the middle section) and the mood of the song was similar to the original version. Lloyd Webber's new version was used for all subsequent productions of Cats, although Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer now sing their number themselves (making the Broadway and London productions identical). In the 1998 film, one stanza was cut out.
In recent productions, a lyric in "Growltiger's Last Stand" was changed in order to remove any racially insensitive language. "With a frightful burst of fireworks the Chinks they swarmed aboard!" became "with a frightful burst of fireworks, the Siamese swarmed aboard!", although the lyric "Heathen Chinese" remains in the tale of the Pekes and the Pollicles.
In the original London production Munkustrap and the Tugger sing an extra verse in Old Deuteronomy's song. This second verse was later cut in subsequent productions
Jellylorum was named after T.S Eliot's own cat