When I saw "Cats" as a kid in 1984, I loved it-or at least I think I did. Heck, it was all the rage in LA. "Daring! Bold!" boasted the tinsel town media in the weeks before it's opening at The Schubert. I begged my parents to let me go- not only because I was a cat lover and believer that Hollywood made you special-but mostly because it was cool and everyone else was going.
I remember all the glitz that went on that day in Century City. I remember me and my girlfriend painted our faces with whiskers and wore our kitty mittens. I remember sitting in a packed house full of the LA elite, admiring how the junkyard scene climbed halfway up the aisle and wishing I could be one of the wealthy ladies who got the much-anticipated cat-lap-dance. I remember sitting uncomfortably between women with dueling perfumes. But I wondered what the big deal was. Why weren't the cats cute? Was there a plot? But everyone loved it so I decided I did too.
Sixteen years later, I found myself falling for the childhood mythology. I begged my Two Jew partner in crime to go see "Cats" at The Orpheum. "We must go," I told Ellen, imagining myself decked out in my cat-ears hat, "Cats is simply the best." She looked skeptical, but consented when I explained the importance of doing some things in life "just once." Boy did I regret it. I suddenly remembered that Ellen doesn't do "cute," which was confirmed when I stole a look at her mid-way through the first act, and she wearing the look of death. Uh-oh.
Admittedly, I was a bit disappointed. The thing was dated. I still didn't get it. The cats were still ugly. I mean, how many times can you stand watching grown men and women in fright wigs doing kitty aerobics? But, I had fun in a Rocky Horror kind of a way, whereas Elle had nothing to purr about.
Elle: Not to trash T.S. Elliot and his kitty poems, but that was the stupidest thing I ever saw. What the hell was Andrew Lloyd Webber thinking when he made this into a musical?
Rox: That's quite an outburst, Elle. I could tell you were bored, but holy cow.
Elle: It was pain, not boredom. "I have a gumbie cat in mind. Her name is Jenny any-dots"?
Rox: I like that line. Heck if they can put Shakespeare to rap...
Elle: You were right; it barely had a plot.
Rox: It had a plot?
Elle: Weren't you listening?
Rox: To what? There was no dialogue.
Elle: To the songs! I had to strain to listen through the cacophony of twenty-odd voices, but there was something of a plot in there.
Rox: I thought it was just a song and dance thing. So what was it about?
Elle: Near as I can tell, at this yearly Jellicle ball one of the cats gets chosen to be reborn.
Rox: And the Deuteronomy cat is, like, the judge?
Elle: He announces the "winner." And there's this Heavyside Layer thing.
Rox: Which is?
Elle: Where the kitty bowl is never empty.
Rox: They kept saying Jell-O-Co cats. Why were they talking about Jell-O?
Elle: They weren't. First I thought they were saying "Jericho," some kind of religious allegory. But it's "Jellicle cat."
Rox: So what is a Jellicle cat?
Elle: "Jellicle cats are black and white / Jellicle cats are of moderate size / Jellicles jump like a jumping Jack / Jellicle cats have moonlit eyes"-
Rox: So a Jellicle is a frickin' house cat?
Elle: Something like that. Jell-O would have been better.
On the cats:
Rox: They looked like the band members from Kiss.
Elle: I was expecting at least one of them to do Gene Simmons tongue wag or something. Actually, it might have livened things up a bit.
Rox: I wasn't even sure who was who. They were the same archetypes Andrew Lloyd Weber always has.
Elle: They were scary looking. And they didn't even move like cats.
On the songs:
Elle: I was expecting it to pick up after that bluesy Elvis song. Which was actually good.
Rox: Why does Andrew Lloyd Weber always have an Elvis?
Elle: All I can say is that semi-operatic chanting hurt me deep down to my very soul. Anyway, it's not particularly exciting poetry to begin with and even worse when set to music.
Rox: Oh come on! What about Memory?
Elle: Isn't it called Grizabella? You know, I heard that song a million years ago on the radio. I hated it then, and watching a cat with mange sing it didn't improve it.
Rox: Was Grizabella a stray cat?
Elle: She used to be the belle of the ball, till she fell upon kitty hard times.
Rox: I just assumed she came from a broken litter.
Elle: No. She used to be a glamorous cat but now her clothes are tattered. Not that cats wear clothes.
Rox: Well, except for those kitty sweater things.
On dumbing down America:
Rox: Is this is a story about humans, not cats? Or is this more about class? Is there deeper message here? Or does it just address the whole Persian cat vs. stray cat thing?
Elle: I suppose you could make the parallel from cats to humans, but I was too busy thinking about lemmings.
Elle: Lemmings. A small mouse-like rodent.
Rox: Something a cat would like to eat. But what the hell are you talking about, Elle?
Elle: I'm drawing a parallel between Lemmings and the "Cats" audience. During mass migrations in the spring, lemmings get a little excited in their quest for dry land and food and start swimming across streams and rivers. But sometimes the water too deep and they all drown. Or pitch themselves off cliffs into the sea by accident or something. Mistaken mass suicide. You know, they're just not thinking. Like the people who all followed each other to "Cats".
Rox: This is like Mount Masada, right? When we threw ourselves into the river?
Elle: You've been there, Rox. There was no river. They committed mass suicide on the mountain top rather than to submit to Roman rule. My point is, just because everybody is doing something, doesn't mean you should.
Rox: Like Yanni syndrome? How everybody agrees he's so great?
Elle: Yeah, even though "Cats" is dated and faded, people are still saying how good it si.
Rox: Or like us saying that Jell-O was good when it came out?
Elle: We weren't alive then.
Rox: But were Jellicles alive then?
Elle: They're made up, Rox!
Rox: That reminds me: I used to think Alf was real...
Elle: Then you can't speak about dumbing down America. I thought "Cats" was dumb, but everyone else loves it.
Rox: But I like TS Elliott's cat poems. I think the language conveys a feeling. I love that Jennyanydots stuff, the pitter-patter of language. I'm just not sure Andrew Lloyd Weber had to get all campy on us. He should have borrowed from Dr. Seuss instead. This felt like he put the Teletubbies to the "Jaws" theme music. He mixed metaphors and ended up missing it.
Rox: It was like the Dennys of-
Elle: It was a trailer park production.
On nine lives:
Rox: So, do you think they are making some big statement about the evolution of cats?
Elle: Maybe evolution on some sci-fi kitty world. I mean, what was that tacky little oval spaceship that rose up from the floor with the flashing colored lights? And then the beam of light that shined down on the stage from the ship? "Beam me up to the mother ship Captain Scary Cat!" And all the gunmetal grey flotsam and jetsam of a set reminded me of...
Rox: ...a kitty Logan's Run with a Heavyside Layer?
Elle: I think the Heavyside Layer should be about obesity.
Rox: Or maybe the play should have been about fat cats not going to heaven.
Elle: Yeah. Well, sitting through "Cats" felt like hell to me.
Return to Home Page