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Cats - The Musical

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Jellicle Cats come out tonight
Jellicle Cats come one come all:
The Jellicle Moon is shining bright -
Jellicles come to the Jellicle Ball.

- TS Eliot

The musical Cats by Andrew Lloyd Webber is based on TS Eliot's1 1939 children's book Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. Originally the book contained 14 poems, with descriptions of various different cats. This has been adapted to tell a story of The Jellicle Cats at the annual Jellicle Ball, where they must decide which cat is to be reborn. The Jellicle Cats' leader, Old Deuteronomy, is kidnapped. While they wait for him to return, each cat tells its own life story to try to persuade the others that they should be the one chosen to have another life. For the musical, the poems have been made into songs.


Thomas Stearns Eliot (born 26 September, 1888, died 4 January, 1965) was an Anglo-American poet, dramatist, and critic who wrote the following:

  • Prufrock and Other Observations (1917)
  • The Waste Land (1922)
  • Murder in the Cathedral (1935)
  • Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats (1939)
  • Four Quartets (1943)

He received many awards such as the Order of Merit and the Nobel Prize for Literature and posthumously the 1983 Tony award for the book of Cats.

People don't believe this but we opened with quite a lot of our capital missing. The only thing I will say is musical theatre has got to continue to take risks.
- Andrew Lloyd Webber

From his childhood, Andrew Lloyd Webber was enchanted by TS Eliot's book Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats; so much so that in 1977 he set to work on creating the musical Cats. However, after a while his interest faded and Lloyd Webber decided to put his effort into Tell Me On A Sunday. After seeing this musical Eliot's former wife Valerie gave Lloyd Webber unpublished pieces of Eliot's work, such as an unfinished poem on Grizabella, and his enthusiasm returned. Lloyd Webber realised that turning the 14 poems and the unpublished pieces of work into a musical would be challenging. For one thing, unlike other musicals, the lyrics came first and the music second; but Lloyd Webber knew just the man to help him create the masterpiece, Trevor Nunn.

Director Trevor Nunn and choreographer Gillian Lynne have conceived an exciting and colourful show. Quite unique among musicals.
- The Daily Mirror

The musical Cats opened on 11 May, 1981, at the New London Theatre, Drury Lane. The opening night was even more dramatic than the usual because of a bomb scare! On 7 October, 1982 the musical moved on to appear on Broadway at the Winter Garden Theatre, where the original production team comprised Trevor Nunn as director, associate director and choreographer Gillian Lynne, designer John Napier and David Hersey who dealt with the lighting. To date the musical has appeared in 30 different countries, has been translated into 10 different languages and has been seen by well over 50 million people. From 19 June, 1997 it was said to be the longest running musical in the history of Broadway theatre until 9 January the following year, when The Phantom of the Opera overtook it.


The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter, It isn't just one of your holiday games; You may think at first I'm as mad as a hatter When I tell you, a cat must have three different names.
- TS Eliot

Dressed up in lycra, donning wigs and unique face paint2, the cast has included Elaine Paige3, Brian Blessed, Paul Nicholas, Wayne Sleep, Sarah Brightman and Bonnie Langford among others, enchanting their audiences night after night. They even interact with the audience at times. There are a large number of cats that appear in the show, but the main ones are:

  • Asparagus (otherwise known as Gus) - is the theatre cat.
  • Bustopher Jones - big fat upper class cat wearing spats and a tuxedo.
  • Carbucketty - a 'knockabout cat'.
  • Grizabella - former glamourpuss has lost her good looks and is reborn.
  • Griddlebone - white Persian cat.
  • Jemima - wise white kitten.
  • Jennyanydots - The old Gumbie cat. She sits all day and rules the mice and cockroaches at night.
  • Macavity - plans on stealing Old Deuteronomy during the musical.
  • The Magical Mr Mistoffelees - young black Tom who uses magic.
  • Mungojerrie - part of a couple of cat burglars.
  • Munkustrap - storyteller, leader and protector of the Jellicle Tribe.
  • Old Deuteronomy - well-loved patriarch of the tribe.
  • Rumpleteazer - cat burglar.
  • Rum Tum Tugger - the ladies' tom can be serious and flirtatious.
  • Skimbleshanks - the railway cat.
  • Victoria - white kitten; talented dancer.

Not only are there cats in the musical, but Pollicle Dogs too. The name Pollicle Dogs derives from TS Eliot's niece's poor attempt to say 'poor little dog' when she was a child.


OH! Well I never! Was there ever A cat so clever As Magical Mr Mistoffelees!
- TS Eliot

Act One

  • Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats4.
  • The Naming of Cats
  • Invitation to the Jellicle Ball
  • The Old Gumbie Cat
  • The Rum Tum Tugger
  • Grizabella - The Glamour Cat
  • Bustopher Jones
  • Mungojerrie And Rumpelteazer
  • Old Deuteronomy
  • The Awefull Battle of the Pekes and the Pollicles
  • The Jellicle Ball
  • Grizabella

Act Two

  • The Moments of Happiness
  • Gus - The Theatre Cat
  • Growltiger's Last Stand (including either 'The Ballad of Billy McCaw' or 'Una Tiepida Notte' depending on production)
  • Skimbleshanks - The Railway Cat
  • Macavity - The Mystery Cat
  • Mr Mistoffelees
  • Memory5.
  • The Journey to The Heaviside Layer
  • The Ad-Dressing of Cats


The musical Cats is usually set in a junkyard, but in Norway the musical is set in an attic, in Sweden it is set on rooftops and in Finland the production takes place in a fantasyland.

The English title is so well-known that it is rarely translated into the native language of the countries where it is performed. This includes Mexico, where the producers decided to keep the name Cats and not change it to Gatos.

Make-up and Costumes

It takes me around 20 minutes to do my make-up for the show.
- Matthew Cutts, who played Munkustrap in 2004.

Each Jellicle cat has its own unique face and body markings. These are put together with the aid of greasepaint that doesn't easily come off if the actors perspire. Leotards and leg warmers are also worn, and wigs are often used to cover the head and the actors' real hair.

People are often really shocked to find we don't have a make-up designer on the tour. We do all our own make-up.
- Stuart Ramsay, who played Rum Tum Tugger in 2004.


Cats has acquired a multitude of awards in several different countries. Japan has given it seven awards and so has Canada. France has given it the Moliere Award for Best Musical and in 1981 Cats won the Laurence Olivier Award for Musical of the Year. The show was nominated for eleven Tony Awards in 1983, winning seven of them:

  • Best Original Score
  • Best Musical
  • Best Book of a Musical
  • Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical (Betty Buckley)
  • Best Lighting Design of a Musical
  • Best Direction of a Musical
  • Best Costume Design of a Musical
1Old Possum was Eliot's nickname given to him by Ezra Pound.2It is believed that each cat and each person who plays the same character has a different made-up face.3Elaine Paige replaced Dame Judi Dench as Grizabella.4Partially credited to Nunn for the lyrics.5Memory is the only song that's only loosely related to a TS Eliot poem, because Nunn wrote the text himself, based on verses and ideas from Eliot's 'Rhapsody on a Windy Night'. The song 'Memory' became a hit, sung by Barbra Streisand, Elaine Paige and Angelika Milster, among others.

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