Cats was inspired by the T.S. Elliot’s Old Pssum’s Book of Practical Cats, a short volume of poetry that Elliot published in 1939. T.S. Elliot was a poet, editor, writer and dramatist who used his writing as a means of exploring and investigating philosophy, religion and life. Deeply interested in matters of faith and life, Eliot decided to turn to Christianity in 1927, in a notoriously controversial and public conversion. While being a man of deep and intense intellect, whose creativity caused him intense suffering in his personal life, by his own admission, Eliot also enjoyed the simpler things in life.
Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats displays this beautifully. It is a series of 15 poems about cats that are written almost like a story to amuse children. Beginning with the Naming of Cats, Eliot creates a whole societal structure surround the “common” household feline, which Eliot would argue was anything but common! “The Naming of Cats” addresses the three different names that each animal should have, how one goes about finding names, which types of names were most suitable, and the mystery of the third name for a cat. In the musical Cats, Andrew Lloyd Webber put the poem to music and it is sung by all the cats together, as an ensemble, at the beginning of the first act.
Throughout the musical we are introduced to several feline characters created by T.S. Eliot. There is the character of “The Old Gumbie Cat,” who we find out is actually named Jennanydots, and is such an industrious animal that she has even taught the beetles and the mice to become productive members of society. Then, of course, is “The Rum Tum Tugger,” who is so an exceptionally vain and contrary in nature that he always wants the very thing that he does not have, until he actually gets it. Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer are a couple of very notorious criminals, who seem to be involved in every kind of crime and domestic upset possible, and even the ones that seem completely impossible.
Bustopher Jones who has become rather robust with respectability and fine food. His incredible rotund figure is often seen prowling nobly along, whiskers in the air, on the way to his next club…i.e. meal. But, most important of all is Old Deuteronomy, the patriarch of the Jellical Cats, he is a leader among them who has lived for a very long time and who is the most venerable and important of cats. There are, of course, several other very remarkable cats in the musical but Old Deuteronomy is a central figure, who will decide which feline will have the great honor of being sent to the Heaviside Lair.
This is a brilliant musical, artfully compiled by Andrew Lloyd Webber and with additional song lyrics and adaptations of Eliot’s work done by Trevor Nunn and Richard Stilgoe. Cats tickets are currently available for several cities across the U.S., and are a great way to enjoy one of the most popular musicals of all time. Cats is not going to be playing much longer, so be sure to get your Cats tickets while you still can.
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