Cats: Starring Clancie-the-Fancifulcat
I was a middle-school kid when I learned about Cats. I remember commercials advertising a touring show and I thought it looked like the most sophisticated, exotic, unattainable experience, ever. The costumes, the make-up, the dancing, the music. As a nerdy, bookish, introverted daughter in a family that never even went to movies, the idea that I would ever see such a production seemed like a foggy, fanciful dream. It would be a lifetime before I would even live in a city with a Theatre. (note the -re)
Thursday Night, it happened. Mikey and I sat in our tippity-top seats, looking down on the cluttered, whimsical stage, and Cats happened. Now, from the time I saw those commercials four score years ago, and Thursday night, Cats was nothing more than a subconscious awareness. I knew none of the songs, knew nothing about the story (indeed, I'd assumed there Was a story...) knew nothing about the characters other than they were...cats. I knew there was a tenuous connection to T.S. Eliot, but that didn't help me much as I grappled with the spectacle unfolding half-a-mile away on the stage.
I admit to being defensive about my Theatre experiences. I'd hear my more stage-experienced friends bemoan the pedestrian appeal of Cats, talking about it like something an actual cat might leave on the carpet. So I downplayed my excitement...Oh, I know. It's terrible, but I've been wanting to see it since I was a kid, so... and then some artful laugh like I belonged in the conversation. And then, sometime Thursday Night--I belonged.
Seeing Cats on stage invited me to share in a massive, generation-spanning private joke: Cats is actually pretty terrible. I kind of hated it, but with an affectionate hate. Loved the spectacle, was blown away by the vocals, captivated by the choreography. I watched it with a particular anxiety--uncomfortable because I felt I was missing something. Where was the story? Where was the narrative thread? Where was the comon human condition to hold this mass of talent together?
I remember the first (and second) time I saw Hamilton, immediately after the final number I wanted nothing more than to sit through it again. When I finally got to see Fiddler on the Roof, same thing. I'd happily sit in my double-letter balcony seat for 3 more hours. Cats? Not so much. I wanted it to end. Kept surreptitiously shining my phone on the MUSICAL NUMBERS to see how many more were left. (Don't worry, there's nobody sitting behind me. Our seats are that bad...)
And yet, a part of me was still thinking...You're watching Cats. In a Theatre.
Three days later, I'm still humming "Memory," and getting a little chill when I make cat-eye-contact with my 14-year-old ClancieCat. The cat we've had since my college graduate son was the same age I was when I never dreamed I'd see Cats in a Theatre. ClancieCat has been a quiet presence in our house through times
of joy, sadness, loss, celebration, strife, victory, tears. I think of all she has stored up in that silent, impassive whiskered face. Everything she holds, because there's no whimsical stage for her to let it all out in nonsensical lyrics.
And I think...maybe Cats tells a story after all.