MY THOUGHTS: Jacob - The Jellicle Cat, or The Introduction To The Sensation Of Musical Theatre And All That Followed
It's an interesting story, this one. A lot of people usually ask me how I got into musical theatre or what made me want to pursue doing something in the theatrical industry. I've only ever told a few people this specific story or I've fabricated it throughout the years to avoid any "shaming." The above image says it all.
I decided to tell this version of the story for a couple of reasons. One, to share in my excitement that I just (literally, just) purchased a ticket to the Broadway revival of Cats which I have never had the opportunity to see live before - and that you'll find out more about in a second. Two, because I constantly defend this show whenever someone bashes it or throws it to the wayside - or more like Heaviside, right? It's a Cats joke. Deal with it. Believe it or not, this show introduced me to the art that I love and its history.
The fabricated version of my introduction to musical theatre story involved the discovery by way of the cast albums for the Disney musicals Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. Since then, cast albums have remained a significant part of my musical theatre enthusiasm. That's another story. While the Disney discovery remains true, it was not my first exposure to the MT art form.
Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats remained one of Broadway's longest-running musicals until The Phantom of the Opera surpassed it in the mid 2000s, Upon its record-breaking performance, the show was preserved in the form of a filmed production that became popular as part of PBS' Great Performances and its worldwide distribution of Polygram Video, which is where this story begins.
As a young child, I was enthused by the programming on PBS from shows like Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, The Puzzle Place, Sesame Street, and Barney & Friends. The big friendly purple giant starred in his own film, Barney's Great Adventure which was released theatrically in 1998 with a home video release by Polygram later that year. The types of children's programming I watched were already fun song-filled adventures, so this next part should come as no surprise.
Among the trailers prior to that video feature presentation, was one for the filmed production of Cats. The trailer, as it originally appeared, can be found below. I was astonished by the stagecraft and the mesmerizing performances featured in this trailer. I had never seen anything like it before, but still had a mix of music, elaborate staging, and (apparently) costumed characters that I had grown accustomed to.
After that trailer would play, I'd get swept into other adventures and wouldn't even think too much about Cats. I eventually rediscovered the film, which then led into where the Disney musical part of the story picks up. Then, I discovered ALW's other shows like The Phantom of the Opera, Evita, and some of his more well-known and favored works, then Mr. Stephen Sondheim. Then to discover that Broadway's original "Grizabella", Betty Buckley, was a Fort Worthian was just the icing on the cake. The rest is history and y'all know me.
Since then, Cats has been performed in Fort Worth (whether on tour or as a regional production) and I never had the opportunity to see it live either because of cost and lack of job, scheduling conflicts, and the like. If the video was any indication, I would be in for a thrill were I given the chance to see it the way it was intended in a theatre.
It's not everyone's favorite show. I get that... and I constantly get friends' backlash or opinion with "out of all shows" sort of remarks, the accusation that the show has no book; just because there are no actual spoken lines and the show is sung-through, the musical still has a book, and the occasional random bursting of "Memory"... parody form, of course. After stuff like that, I'd say it's a "guilty pleasure" show, with most friends not knowing it was the show that introduced me to theatre.
When it was announced that Cats would be revived in London starring Nicole Scherzinger as "Grizabella", the rumors began to swirl that Broadway would be the next stop. A wide-eyed Jacob crossed his fingers hoping that transfer would happen at a point in time he would be able to experience it in the city where it made history and ran for 7,485 performances over the course of 18 years. Since the original Broadway production closed, it's been near another 18 years.
While Scherzinger will not be transferring with the show, it has been announced that Leona Lewis will take over the role with a cast of Broadway's best and most talented dancers from whose works include the recent revivals of On The Town, Dames At Sea, and more. Candid footage from rehearsals can be seen as part of the new Broadway.com video blog, What's New Pussycat? featuring this production's new "Rum Tum Tugger", Tyler Hanes.
After writing this, I should not be ashamed of the show that introduced me to musical theatre and beyond. I've laughed along with everyone's jokes and comments because I can understand their opinions on the show, but nothing can ever take away the feeling that I have had by involving myself in and seeing live theatre in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex and in New York City... and it's mostly due to this show, developed from T. S. Eliot's poetry about Jellicle cats crawling through the Junkyard wondering who among them will get to experience life anew.
It opened my eyes (no pun intended; if you see the trailer below, you'll get it) to musicals, plays, technical and design aspects, and even graphic design because of the show's iconic and intriguing logo. I am thrilled to be able to see this live soon and just wanted to share my own "Jellicle" story just as all the other felines get to do in the show. Let the memory live again.