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.