A Cat So Clever
January 30, 2020
As one of the few people in our social circle who actually saw Cats -- the OG Broadway version, not the CGI nightmare fuel currently taking a big ol' litter box dump in the box office -- I have been asked many times over the last few months to...explain...Cats. Like, what? Why? And...huh?
Mostly I've just shrugged and been like, yeah. I don't understand what they were thinking. It's a pretty weird show with people dressed as cats singing song after song about different kinds of cats, but half of the words are made-up nonsense. Then one cat comes out and sings "Memory," which is the only song without any nonsense words and therefore feels like it belongs in a completely different musical and no, I don't know what the cat is even remembering in the first place because "plots" and "story arcs" aren't really this show's thing. But since it's a good song she gets to fly off the stage to cat heaven to either get reincarnated...or possibly killed off in a Logan's Run-type scenario because the show does have that whole late 70s/early 80s hellscape vibe mixed with Big Sexy Homoerotic Cat Energy. But the cats come out to dance and hiss at you in the aisles, which is sort of fun, and the songs are all very catchy and will be stuck in your head for pretty much the rest of your life.
I was like 14 or 15 when I saw it in New York, probably around the time it hit the 10-year mark on Broadway. I was DEEP into an over-the-top, obsessive Andrew Lloyd Webber period at the time (like to the point where I tried unsuccessfully to convince a boy at my school that he was my uncle -- don't ask, long story), and even I left the theater like, WTF was that? I went on to see Phantom of the Opera like, three more times but I never, ever went back to Cats.
Until last Thursday, when it came to Baltimore as part of our season ticket package to the Hippodrome.
The original plan for Jason (a Cats virgin) and I to see it together, possibly maybe under the influence of a mind-altering substance of some kind, until I put the cast recording on one night while making dinner.
Ezra walked into the kitchen and asked what he was listening to, because he really liked it. I told him it was Cats.
(Noah shrieked from another room. "OH MY GOD LIKE FROM THAT TRAILER? AHHHHHHHH!")
No, this was the actual musical. Yes, it really is about cats, actual cats. Yes, they really are people in cat costumes, but NO, they don't look like the ones in the trailer. But also YES, it's a pretty weird show and (see above for full description).
Ezra was sold. That sounds bonkers! But also cats! He loves cats! He'd like to see Cats.
Jason graciously and generously gave up his ticket after absolutely zero convincing or discussion, and said he'd take Ike bowling that night instead. Ezra would attend Cats with me; Noah would stay home and fight off serial killers (aka play video games on the Nintendo Switch all night).
Ezra wore his nicest shirt and suit jacket. We got dinner before and he ordered a wedge salad ("l'm really into blue cheese lately.") and the steak frites. At the theater we split a popcorn and a bottle of water and settled in. I was surprised that the show -- this old-as-hell, much-mocked show, currently the biggest punchline in cinema -- was completely packed. I saw a lot of cat ear headbands and enough people wearing various animal prints that it had to be on purpose.
The first time a cat appeared onstage, a small child yelled "WHAT'S THAT??!!" so loud the entire theater chuckled.
Two or three songs in, Ezra leaned over and whispered, "I am really enjoying this musical!"
I whispered back, "Me too!"
Guys. Cats is fucking awesome. I retract every asshole joke I ever made about Cats. We had a goddamn blast.
The dancing is insane. I'd honestly completely forgotten. (To be fair, the choreography has been updated by Hamilton's choreographer.) They're en pointe in one song and in tap shoes for the next. They twist and contort and fling each other around number after number. The costumes are funny and sexy (yass) and manage to be both perfectly human AND cat-like without falling into the abyss of the uncanny valley. "Magical Mister Mistoffolees" is an absolute tune and Ezra and I unabashedly chair-danced to it. When Grizabella hit the "TOUCH MEEEEE" note in "Memory," half the audience had the same involuntary half yelp/cry/clap reaction. (Fine, I was one of them.) The phrase "brought the house down" was literally coined for that moment. I looked over and Ezra was wiping away tears. The whole cast got a thunderous standing ovation.
Yes, it's weird. Unbelievably weird. But good for you, Cats. Be weird! Be weird as hell! Look at all these people, rocking out and losing their minds over a 30-year-old musical despite STILL having no idea what the hell a Jellicle Cat is, even after listening to like, four or five songs describing them to us.
Ezra fell asleep on the ride home, but awoke when I slammed on the brakes because a cat -- an actual cat -- ran out into the street in front of our car. It darted off, then zig-zagged back in front of us again. I pulled over and got out of the car to see if it was okay or lost but it quickly darted under a fence and disappeared. I got back in the car and assured Ezra that the cat was fine and looked well-fed and taken care of, so it was probably just somebody's outdoor cat out for the night.
"So not a Grizabella," he murmured. "More of a Mungojerrie or Rumpleteazer, maybe."
He gets it.
This is so sweet to read. My dad took me to my first Broadway show for my 10th birthday, the equally weird The Magic Show, but I can still tell you about our day in NYC, where we had lunch (and what I got), and about the visit to the Empire State Building. It's a safe bet that Ezra will do the same in 40+ years...
Posted by: Suzanne | January 30, 2020 at 02:21 PM
My dad took me to see Cats on a trip to London. Later he bought the double cassette tape soundtrack, and even later our whole family saw it when it on a US tour. He would occasionally try to classify our various family cats according to the songs. Now that's he gone it brings me fond memories (NOT the movie, I'm too scared to see it) because it reminds me of him despite how absolutely weird and baffling a show it is.
Posted by: Nancy | January 30, 2020 at 03:01 PM
My parents took me and my sister to see Cats on Broadway when we were in elementary school, which would have been in late 80s or early 90s. We loved it so much. Afterward, we listened to the soundtrack over and over, and did our own dancing based on our terrible memories of the choreography. I honestly had no idea that the musical was the brunt of so many jokes until this movie came out. I've always remembered the songs as catchy and fun. I'm glad you and Ezra liked it.
Posted by: Erin | January 30, 2020 at 04:03 PM
You do know it's based on a a book of poems by T.S. Eliot? Maybe you could get the book for Ezra! --Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats.
Posted by: lizardek | January 30, 2020 at 04:12 PM
Yay! I saw Cats several times on Broadway as a kid because my aunt and uncle lived in Manhattan and I used to visit them a lot. Loved it then. Saw it last month and loved it then too! I wanted to bring my 4yo son but couldn't get not-a-million-dollar tickets for a time that worked to bring him. I thought Grizabella's voice was amazing in ours and I wish I could get ahold of a cast recording of THIS cast.
Posted by: Joanna Moore | January 30, 2020 at 05:39 PM
I love all your kids...but Ezra is my dude. (you know, in my not-at-all-creepy-imagination!)
Posted by: JoMarch | January 30, 2020 at 05:50 PM
I love that there is an Ezra in the world, and that we have the great privilege of knowing him through your writing. And I love even more that, of all the parents he could have been born to, he ended up with two that nurture and encourage his Ezra-ness. He’s a lucky kid, as are Ike and Noah.
Posted by: Lise | January 30, 2020 at 05:57 PM
I remember seeing this show back when I was in high school in the late 80s. I went with my mom, and we both had the same WTF reaction after it was over. But I am glad someone gets it.
Posted by: Stacy | January 30, 2020 at 06:13 PM
Why is Ezra so amazing? He's such an old soul, I love it.
Posted by: Anna | January 30, 2020 at 09:09 PM
"I'm really into blue cheese lately" -- SWOON
Posted by: Emily | January 31, 2020 at 09:28 AM
Cats was the first Broadway show I ever saw. My parents took me in the late 80's to make up for the fact I wasn't allowed to see Starlight Express with my older brother while we were in London (see https://twitter.com/cozyjamble/status/1207871249348620290?s=21 for an amazing nsfw summary of Starlight Express) . I loved cats, I loved dance, and I loved the song Memories, but was never a huge musical theatre person.
It has been really cool to see my 12yo daughter embrace musical theatre. She has a "Musical nerds" group chat with her friends and did a routine at summer camp to Macavity a couple of years ago (highly recommend the summer camp by musicalartiststheatre.com to anyone in the Baltimore/Annapolis area). We didn't see Cats, but will be seeing Wicked at the Hippodrome next month and I can't wait.
I'm glad you were able to share this with Ezra - it's really special to be able to experience things in a new way with our kids.
Posted by: Becky | January 31, 2020 at 11:01 AM
omg my 11 year old theatre obsessed self would have lost my MIND for that cat pillow with the logo cat eyes. this is awesome, rock on mama.
Posted by: Janine | January 31, 2020 at 12:45 PM
Off topic but please tell me where you got that bedding? I don't know if my husband will go for it but I love it!
On topic, I'm taking my daughter to a Broadway production for her 15th birthday. :-)
Posted by: B.A. | January 31, 2020 at 12:51 PM
This is *amazing*. I adore CATS with an absolutely pure OG Broadway love, and although we will not discuss the movie I will belt out every song from that cast recording with abandon. GO EZRA!!
Posted by: Laura Helton | January 31, 2020 at 01:10 PM
I really enjoyed reading this. And have to say you’ve raised some very cool kids! Not that you need me, a random internet stranger to say so, but I gotta say I just love reading about all their individual spirits!
Posted by: Kate | January 31, 2020 at 01:37 PM
My grandmother really loved the theater and she used to take me to the Hippodrome when I was growing up! I have such good memories of it. I too loved Andrew Lloyd Weber musicals and listened to many on CD back in the day. So glad you and Ezra had a good time!
Posted by: Abbie | January 31, 2020 at 02:53 PM
This perfectly describes the first time I saw Starlight Express, which TBH, is a hot mess on wheels (literally)...but it's just so awesome. I love it. I cannot apologize. It is what it is.
Posted by: Jamie | January 31, 2020 at 05:04 PM
@B.A. The bedding is from Ikea. Ezra picked it out himself. It's gorgeous! 🙂
Posted by: Amalah | February 01, 2020 at 01:11 AM
Bringing the house down with Memory — Betty Buckley who was the original Broadway Grizabella was given the following note by the director: “I need you to stop the show”.
Posted by: Margie stroman | February 01, 2020 at 02:54 PM
There is MUCH distress in our household because the stage production is not playing in London at the moment...my 10 yr old was completely captivated by the movie, is still, a month on singing the songs and 'really really really needs to see it on staggggeeeee'. No can do kiddo, that's a trip too far!
Posted by: Wendy | February 03, 2020 at 05:43 AM
Omg, if you were a theater nerd in the late 80's/early 90's- you were obsessed with Andrew Lloyd Webber. I sure was! I saw Phantom of the Opera and Cats on Broadway and gobbled up every minute- but my GOD. When I saw Starlight Express on tour- I nearly lost my damn tweenager MIND! Holy. Cow. Broadway ON ROLLER SKATES! And that technotronic music??? My mind was blown. But I digress. (sorry, just taking a stroll down memory lane... don't mind me) Music theater is a love that not all understand, but those of us who do- love it DEEPLY. I am so loving that Ezra is turning into a musical theater fan. It warms my little drama nerd heart! I am still trying to convert my husband, who didn't even like Rock of Ages!! What male doesn't like a musical that's based on glam metal?? SMH.
Posted by: Jenny C | February 03, 2020 at 03:02 PM
I had a feeling the bedding might be from Ikea ;-) I will take a look. Thanks!!
Posted by: B.A. | February 05, 2020 at 11:21 AM