Cats are probably the least domesticated of our domestic animals. Dogs may have chosen to live with us, but they have changed themselves to suit our needs. Cats moved into our granaries when we started storing grain and found the stored grain an outstanding hunting ground. While they tolerate us, and at times even show great affection toward us, the domestication is on the cat’s terms, not ours.
T. S. Elliott knew this. The cats of Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats belong to themselves, not to people, and Elliott actually turned down an attempt by Walt Disney to make a movie of the poems, because he did not want his cats made into cartoon cats. But when Andrew Weber approached his widow about making a musical from the book, with the cats being very much street cats, she agreed that his vision was what her husband would have wished. The result was one of the longest-running musicals on the London stage.
Cats was made into a movie 13 years ago. I watched it a couple of times on PBS, taped it, bought the official tapes from PBS (and was rather annoyed that some of the material I’d taped off-air wasn’t on the official tape) and finally bought the DVD as part of a set of Andrew Lloyd Weber musicals. It’s one of those DVD’s I have played so often I’m worried about wearing it out.
It doesn’t have much of a plot. What plot there is is centered on Grizabella, an old cat who’s had a very good, if slightly shady, life and is now shunned by the other cats. A secondary plot is the kidnapping of Old Deuteronomy by the feline outlaw, Macavity, and his rescue by the kitten prodigy, Mr. Mistoffelees. But the music and dancing are the heart of the production.
Most of the songs use lyrics straight (or almost straight) from the book, but I think my favorite is “Memories,” which along with Grizabella herself, were added. Of the characters straight from the book, I think my favorites are Rum-Tum-Tigger (a tomcat in his prime who’s a rock ‘n roll teen idol) and Mr. Mistoffelees (a kitten with powers he doesn’t quite know how to handle.)
Surprisingly the dancing, while I love it, is not nearly as cat-like as Puss in Boots and the white cat in the ballet, Sleeping Beauty (Opera de Paris.) But the whole performance is still enjoyable enough to repeat.