No, not those kind of cats.
These kind of Cats:
Last night Sydney had several friends over to watch a movie and eat cheese. You may think I’m exaggerating about the cheese, but I’m not. We had brie en croute (A fancy name for Brie wrapped in Pillsbury crescent rolls and baked), pepperjack, mozzarella, and Beecher’s Flagship, No Woman and Marco Polo. If you haven’t yet experienced the beauty of Beecher’s cheeses, you are really missing out. Flagship is my favorite.
Sydney and I once took a field trip down to Pike Place market in Seattle to sample the cheese and see how they make it. If you’re ever in the area, make sure you stop by and check it out. It’s right by the original Starbuck’s Coffee.
Wait- where was I? Oh yeah. Cheese and “Cats.”
So last night as we were eating cheese Sydney’s friend Micaela says to me, “I really think you should go back and see “Cats” again.
One of the boys, Alex, who was standing nearby said, “What cats?”
I responded, “Not cats. Cats. The musical.”
He said, “Oh, I know. Cats!” And then he did jazz hands. I should mention this “boy” is not a small boy. He’s a very tall, broad shouldered boy, so seeing him do jazz hands was almost as amusing as the time he played Aladdin in a church skit.
Micaela had been at our house the night Jeff and I had gone to see “Cats,” and had witnessed my retelling of the ordeal to Sydney after we got home. But Alex hadn’t heard the story, and neither have most of you. I’ll tell you, it was a night to remember.
First, I should preface this story by saying that I have always loved Broadway musicals, for as long as I can remember. I used to listen to my parents’ record albums of “Oklahoma,” “The King and I,” and “South Pacific” all the time, singing and dancing and pretending to be a part of the story.
When I was about 7 or 8, my grandmother took us all to see “Annie” in Los Angeles. I was hooked. I took an old grey dress that my mother had made for my sister to play a pilgrim in a school play, found myself a locket, and transformed myself into an orphan. I even wrote a note that I folded and placed into the pocket of the raggedy dress. It said, “Please take care of our Annie until we come back for her.”
When I was about 9 or 10, my grandmother flew me back down to Southern California to participate in a two week workshop at “South Coast Reparatory Theater” in Costa Mesa. We learned all sorts of acting techniques.
The first was miming. I could blow a fake giant bubble and have it pop in my face like the best of them. I practiced the “mime caught in the box” act for hours on end, my poor grandmother, God bless her soul.
I learned the entirety of the “Jabberwocky” poem from “Alice in Wonderland” author Lewis Carroll. I can still recite quite a bit of it: “T’was brillig, and the slithey toads did gyre and gimbal in the wabe. All mimsy were the borogroves and the momes wrath outgrabe.” It gets a little hazy in the middle, but then I remember the phrase “frumious bandersnatch.” The poem, I think, is nothing but nonsense. I have no idea if there is deeper meaning to it or not, but more than 30 years later it is still etched in my memory.
Our big finale was to learn the song “Give my Regards to Broadway.” I can still sing that whole thing as well. I left that camp convinced I would have a career in the theater. That didn’t happen, as you might have guessed.
I don’t remember any of the kids’ names. (I’m the chunky awkward blonde with the bad “Annie” perm in the middle) Please note the jazz hands in the front row. I have to believe he went on to do some sort of performance-based arts.
My love for musical theater has led me to seeing several live performances. And there are a lot of great ones. In my humble opinion, “Cats” is not one of them.
Christmas 2011 my husband gave me two tickets to a spring 2012 performance of the show at the Paramount theater in Seattle. He didn’t do this intentionally. He didn’t say to himself, “I really want to see ‘Cats.'” Frankly, he didn’t know anything about it.
As the time approached to go to the show, I reminded him of it. He said, “So what’s it about?”
I stared at him for a moment. “It’s about cats.”
His eyes got a little bigger. “The whole show is about cats?”
“Did you even look at what you were buying?”
“No. I thought a night out at the theater would be fun.”
“Well, it’s a night out at the theater about cats. I’m sure it will be fine,” I said. “I mean it’s like the longest running Broadway musical ever.”
Wrong. It’s the second longest running. Cats closed after 18 years, and “Phantom of the Opera” has been going for 25. But still- 18 years, 7500 shows on Broadway alone. 7 Tony Awards. It’s gotta be great, right?
I remember when “Cats” was at the height of its popularity. I am pretty sure my mother went to see it, and had the sweatshirt to prove it. You know the one, With the eyes.
We got dressed up and headed to a very nice steak dinner at Morton’s, where we drank wine and ate like royalty. As we waited for our car at the valet stand, the other valet asked where we were headed and we told him. He got a strange look on his face and said, “My buddy ushers over at the theater. He says it’s an… interesting show.”
Our first clue that we were out of our element was the stream of people moving into the theater with cat tails attached to their rear ends. There were street vendors selling handcrafted cat tails. Some were normal cat colors (brown, white, black, tabby) while others were calico or rainbow.
Jeff said, “Do you want a tail?”
My response was a dirty look.
We got seated in the theater, which isn’t the most comfortable place to sit. Back in 1928 when the theater first opened, either everyone was carrying around a lot less girth (they were) or they had less personal space issues. We were on the first level, about halfway, maybe 3/4 back. A couple about our age came down the row and the man sat next to me. I tried to give him room for his arm, but I felt as though I was practically attached to him.
The show began. Cats came streaming down the aisles and from the balconies onto the stage. I don’t remember much, but I do remember this: for the entire first act the only dialogue and/or singing was one singular, terrible phrase. Jellicle cats.
Jellicle cats. Jellicle cats. Over and over again. Jellicle cats. Whispered, chanted, sung. Jellicle cats. Later on I found out that Andrew Lloyd Webber didn’t make up the phrase “Jellicle cats,” T. S. Eliot did, in his poem from the anthology “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.” I really don’t care who came up with the phrase. I just never EVER want to hear it again. Ever. And I certainly don’t want to hear it sung.
I kept waiting for some indication of what in the name of all things holy was going on in this show. I tried to follow it, really I did. I consider myself to be capable enough to follow along even complicated literary subject matter. I was lost. I was as lost as a jellicle cat who can’t find his way to the jellicle ball. That’s a thing, you know. At least it is in this musical.
The guy next to me was clearly struggling as much as I was. Oh and my husband, too. Jeff was quietly watching, but the guy on the other side of me kept making comments under his breath like, “Oh for God’s sake” and “What the hell?” I started getting the giggles a little bit, and I think he did too. Not sure if his wife/ girlfriend was enjoying herself.
Just when I thought I was going to lose my mind over that damn “jellicle cats” thing, suddenly the air in the theater shifted. Everyone got extra quiet. Clearly this was a moment. The spotlight was shining on one haggard cat slowly making her way across the stage. I could hear the beginnings of the only tune I had previously known from this show, “Memory.” This was a big moment. It was also an indicator that I had almost made it to intermission.
Jeff leaned over to me and whispered, “That cat looks like __________.” I can’t say the name of who he was referring to, but I will tell you it is an older woman that we were previously acquainted with. His assessment was spot on.
I lost it. The sound of my guffaw echoed out through the theater like a cannon. The guy next to me almost lost it. Jeff could barely hold it together. The more I tried to stop laughing, the harder it became. Tears streamed down my face. I practiced Lamaze breathing and tried everything I could think of to control what was bubbling inside of me and about to burst forth.
The audience cheered at the end of “Memory,” and I cheered because I knew relief was coming.
Jeff turned to me. “I don’t think I can do this anymore.”
I nodded, unable to speak. He led me out of the theater into the night and I felt like I could breathe again.
Jeff said, “I think she’s the one.”
I looked at him, confused. “She’s what one? Who is?”
“That cat. At the end. I think she’s the one he’s going to choose.”
“The one who is going to choose to do what?!?”
“To go to cat heaven.”
I was stunned. “You mean- you knew what was going on in there?”
“No, not really. But I did get that. The big fat one was gonna pick the old lady cat to go to cat heaven.”
I had no idea what he was talking about. All I heard was jellicle cats over and over. I never heard any dialogue. I never heard any explanations. I kept waiting for them, but they never came.
Two women ahead of us were talking about how they were escaping and not going back. I said, “Did you have any idea what was going on in there?”
They laughed and one said, “No! I thought it was just me!”
We walked across the street and decided to hit the Ruth’s Chris for dessert; also booze that would take away the pain of what had just happened.
We took our seat in the lounge area on a comfy couch and I slumped back. I was free.
We overheard the group next to us. They had been at the play also, and, like us, had escaped at intermission. We bonded over our ordeal and laughed at the experience. Jeff kept apologizing, but I reassured him there was no way he could have known.
When our waiter appeared, I was so loopy that anything was going to set me off into a fit of laughter. Unfortunately, our waiter was a little person. A midget. I began the Lamaze breathing again, ordered the chocolate lava cake and an Irish coffee. When he walked away to put in our order, I was afraid to look directly at Jeff. I knew if I did I was not going to be able to recover.
Our waiter returned with our desserts and we, along with the table adjacent, regaled him with the story of our night. He was hilarious and charming and I no longer felt giggly about him, I just thought he was a cool guy.
In the end, I have to admit that night will be forever in my memory as one of the most entertaining I have ever had. I laughed until I couldn’t breathe. I gorged myself on filet mignon and decadent desserts. I met a really awesome little person. And I survived to tell the tale. Or tail, as the case may be.