the only T-shirt that outsold Cats was the Hard Rock Café’s
December 5, 2019 9:53 AM   Subscribe

How Cats Changed Broadway (Now and) Forever. By the time Cats opened at the Winter Garden on October 7, 1982, it had a record-breaking advance sale of $6.2 million. Predictably, the reviews were mixed. Michael Feingold, in the Village Voice, wrote, “To sit through [the show] is to realize that something has just peed on your pants leg.” Frank Rich, in the New York Times, said the show was full of banalities and catnap stretches of boredom, but praised its “theatrical magic” and accurately predicted it would “lurk around Broadway for a long time to come.”

From Vulture's 25 Days of Cats
posted by roger ackroyd (44 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
Related: YouTuber 12tone on the creation of Cats - My Favorite Trainwreck
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:11 AM on December 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


Saw Cats in Chicago back in the 80s, after so many acquaintances and friends told us how amazing and wonderful it was. Left at intermission. Never understood the appeal.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:34 AM on December 5, 2019 [5 favorites]


I too saw it in Chicago in the '80s. I was a tween and we were a cat-family. I was completely unimpressed, and I liked musicals at the time. My mom was obsessed with Evita! and I knew a lot of the words by heart.
posted by SoberHighland at 10:41 AM on December 5, 2019


I almost saw it in Chicago in the 80s, but there was a snowstorm the day we had tickets and my dad refused to risk driving to the city, and I threw a FIT. And here we all are, three decades later!
posted by roger ackroyd at 10:44 AM on December 5, 2019


I feel like this musical's popularity rides almost entirely on "Memory". Well, that and the fact that so many people love cats (the animal).

The show itself has some impressive choreography, but it's not so impressive as to justify its incredible longevity.
posted by tobascodagama at 11:01 AM on December 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


I saw it in 1987 (1988?) in Grand Rapids, MI. Liked it a lot at the time. Now however...
posted by JohnFromGR at 11:09 AM on December 5, 2019


My mom took me to see a weekend matinee of Cats for my 12th birthday, just me and her, and we both have wonderful memories of it over 30 years later. It was at the height of the craze and the shows were all packed to the rafters. It was the perfect musical for preteen me, and I loved that it was a special outing for just the two of us. We didn’t have a lot of money and I know now that my parents must have scrimped to buy those tickets.

However, Mom recently informed me she had seen the trailer for the live action movie and was thoroughly creeped out by it. We won’t be going on a mother-daughter outing to watch that!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:12 AM on December 5, 2019 [8 favorites]


Memory is the worst part of the show.
posted by seanmpuckett at 11:12 AM on December 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


I saw Cats before it opened in London in 1981. My parents got tickets for one of a series of preview performances, weeks -- months? -- before opening night. At the time it seemed like an amazing stroke of good fortune to get tickets so cheaply. Only years later did I realise it wasn't such a lucky chance after all: it was because the producers were so nervous about the show that they put on the preview performances to test the audience reaction.

So many musicals have copied the Cats formula that it's hard to recapture, now, just how innovative it was in 1981. It wasn't so much the music as the stagecraft and the sheer spectacle of the thing. I remember how we puzzled over the note printed on our tickets: 'Latecomers will not be admitted while the auditorium is in motion.' We laughed about it and thought it must be a misprint: how could the auditorium be in motion? Then the lights went down and the 'cats' crept stealthily into position among the audience. And then the music started and the auditorium began to move ..
posted by verstegan at 11:22 AM on December 5, 2019 [5 favorites]


When I was little in the 90s I saw it on broadway and I was totally obsessed with the music. I had a Walkman and I would just listen to the tape over and over wherever I was. Also growing up in the suburbs around NY meant the commercials were on all the time.
This article made me think about how funny it is how musicals can cause mass hysteria like this even though we don't really understand why or how.
posted by bleep at 11:24 AM on December 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


i have mentioned this here before but when i was very little my parents took me to see this, and i was wildly excited until the start of the show when i realized these were FALSE CATS, at which point i became wild with outrage.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:36 AM on December 5, 2019 [35 favorites]


Memory is the worst part of the show.

Oh, absolutely, but people love that shit.
posted by tobascodagama at 11:37 AM on December 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


A friend of Lloyd Webber’s says that whenever the composer walks into a restaurant in Europe where an orchestra is playing, the conductor invariably strikes up the tune.

If you're rich enough that the restaurants you eat at have house orchestras, and famous enough that they play special theme music just for you, I would like to think that it makes you at least a little melancholy. Otherwise it just seems unfair on the rest of us.
posted by rollick at 11:39 AM on December 5, 2019 [9 favorites]


Prancing around in torn leotards to the poetry of T.S. Eliot sounds pretty avant-garde to me.

/posting from 1922
posted by betweenthebars at 11:44 AM on December 5, 2019 [24 favorites]


I love “Memory,” as corny as it is, but not the show itself.

the only T-shirt that outsold Cats was the Hard Rock Café’s

I miss Peace Frog t-shirts!
posted by sallybrown at 11:45 AM on December 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


Have told this story before, am telling it again:

I studied theater in college, and in my freshman year was still focusing on performance. In our conservatory, we had vocal class once a week. Our very first class was just a hail-fellow-well-met meeting in which the teacher told us all how we'd work for the year, what we'd be doing and what we could expect. We would each pick a single song to work on for the entire first semester, he said; it could be from any genre, any composer, pop, jazz, musical theater, classical, didn't matter - this was just to first of all get used to working. He released us all, telling us we had to all declare our selection of song the following week and he'd pick a few of us for the first in-class session.

We all came into class the next week, all of us with sheet music which we'd purchased, he took down all of our choices in his notebook one by one - and there were a lot of repeats: all the boys had either chosen Music of the Night from Phantom or Empty Chairs at Empty Tables from Les Mis. All the other girls had selected either On My Own from Les Mis, or Memory from Cats.

I, however, had chosen Sting's Moon Over Bourbon Street.

Our teacher had kept his head down, jotting in his notebook when he heard everyone else's choice. But when I announced my choice, he stopped and looked up at me, hesitated a moment, and then fervently said "Thank you." And went on to take down the next kid and their mention of Memory or Music of the Night.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:48 AM on December 5, 2019 [42 favorites]


Sometime earlier this year, probably after the first trailer dropped, a friend of mine pointed out that Memory is a song about an old cat that wants to be petted once again after not having been petted in a very long time -- which promptly caused me to get weepy and hug my older cat. (Much to his annoyance.)
posted by JustKeepSwimming at 11:50 AM on December 5, 2019 [32 favorites]


Back in the day, the family all drove to NYC in hopes of seeing Cats. This was before you could get cheap tickets online and instead had to wait in a huge line at some freezing cold booth. We didn't manage to score tickets to Cats and instead ended up seeing this hypnotist named The Amazing Alexander. We loved it! It was better than Cats and we ended up seeing it again and again.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 11:53 AM on December 5, 2019 [21 favorites]


Also, in response to this line:

A friend of Lloyd Webber’s says that whenever the composer walks into a restaurant in Europe where an orchestra is playing, the conductor invariably strikes up the tune.


Seriously restaurant orchestras? You only go with Memory? You so many options. Superstar would be hilarious. Don't Cry For Me Argentina is another option. As is Music of the Night. There's a lot of grumpy pants things people can and do say about Webber, but he has had a LOT of recognizable hits.
posted by JustKeepSwimming at 11:56 AM on December 5, 2019 [6 favorites]


maybe they play it in retribution
posted by roger ackroyd at 11:58 AM on December 5, 2019 [23 favorites]


I'd never heard of Cats until seeing this SNL bit for The Amazing Alexander: "... much better than Cats"
posted by exogenous at 12:04 PM on December 5, 2019 [7 favorites]


Sometime earlier this year, probably after the first trailer dropped, a friend of mine pointed out that Memory is a song about an old cat that wants to be petted once again after not having been petted in a very long time -- which promptly caused me to get weepy and hug my older cat. (Much to his annoyance.)

Aw, man, you just killed me.
posted by dlugoczaj at 12:05 PM on December 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


Seriously restaurant orchestras? You only go with Memory?

the pianist should play that meow mix commercial
posted by poffin boffin at 12:29 PM on December 5, 2019 [13 favorites]


Memory is the worst part of the show

♫ jelliCLE songs for jellicle CATS ♫
posted by Flannery Culp at 12:37 PM on December 5, 2019 [6 favorites]


I managed to catch it in 1983 in Vienna--Theater an der Wien, soon after it opened there. I'm very sorry to report that the auditorium did not move one inch.

Hmm, it looks like there is a whole page about this production on the fandom.com site. You can even watch the 1983 documentary about the production and a whole bunch of videos of performances of various numbers in the production (and for that matter, videos of most every production over the years from around the world).


"With a run of 7 years, Cats remains the longest running musical in Vienna this day" and "The success of this production is credited for having kick-started the commercial Musical Theatre scene in German-speaking countries".
posted by flug at 12:49 PM on December 5, 2019 [5 favorites]


I don't fully grok some of the hatred, though I won't fight anyone about it. For sure I'll take a Sondheim show over it any day of any week. But I think it's decently fun and creative. (One thing touring productions must lack, I think, is that in New York the set wrapped around into the audience area, so the whole thing had an extra immersive feeling to it.)

The one thing I do find slightly perplexing is the popularity in America given how deeply steeped in old British culture the lyrics/poems are. I was in 7th or 8th grade when it came out, and though I was certainly way more knowledgeable in things British and theatrical than other kids my age in suburban Kansas City, I would have been bluffing if I claimed to truly understand all the references.
posted by dnash at 1:09 PM on December 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


I guess I never took Cats particularly seriously as a thing. I know a lot of my musical theater friends have some scorn for it as frivolous, or something outside of the canon of what's considered good that crowds out more worthy work, but an excuse for a bunch of talented people to dress up as cats and sing songs about cat stuff seems to me like a perfectly fine way to spend an evening.

At the same time, I didn't really see the weird power it has until I started working at this performing arts center a couple years ago. There was a resident youth theater and they did Cats on a pretty regular rotation, and those kids had a blast every damn time. Like, showed up jumping around excited and wore their makeup home at night. That kind of thing can be a life changing experience. It definitely fostered some lifetime lovers of the arts, if not professional creative people, through their involvement in that show specifically.

If something about it really reaches people who don't get reached otherwise, shows them what there is to love about performing arts, then I think it's great, and worth its place near the top.

Though, I mean, it's no Starlight Express.
posted by Phobos the Space Potato at 1:09 PM on December 5, 2019 [12 favorites]


I feel like this musical's popularity rides almost entirely on "Memory". Well, that and the fact that so many people love cats (the animal).
Skin tight outfits on slinky cast members didn't hurt either.
posted by Bee'sWing at 1:11 PM on December 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


I seriously need to find some hard core hallucinogenics to ingest prior to seeing the upcoming Cats film. Take me away to Xanadu, Dame Mewdy Dench!
posted by grumpybear69 at 1:16 PM on December 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


Cats was my first experience with live musical theater. I was utterly stunned; I literally walked back to my hotel room with the music and pageantry wrapped around me. It was a great experience.
posted by SPrintF at 1:20 PM on December 5, 2019 [9 favorites]


I prefer SUPERSTAR and EVITA, but a movie of CATS? Totally going to see that. I think I saw it as a child - I remember the cats in the auditorium, super-exciting!
posted by alasdair at 1:35 PM on December 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


Lloyd Webber Discourse always gives me a certain odd nostalgia for my friend's junior high school girlfriend and her utter obsession with Phantom*. I get that one more than Cats, though.

*Though my assessment at the time was - and is now, for that matter - that the best musical interpretation of that story belongs to Iron Maiden.
posted by atoxyl at 2:05 PM on December 5, 2019


I saw Cats in the late 80's in London.

When the show first came out, there was an article about it in Smithsonian (or some other equally high end magazine) focusing on the design. This would have been in the early 80's and I was absolutely captivated. That they were Cats was somewhat secondary to the head-to-toe aspect of the design - the actors were completely transformed.

Now I know that was not the first show where they transformed people like that, but as an early-high school student, I was blown away.

By the time I saw the show - probably 87 or 88 - I was a jaded theater undergrad who hated all musicals (I love musicals now) but when my girlfriend suggested we queue for Cats, I was torn between my earlier fascination with the design and my public facing hatred of everything musical.

Reader, I was blown away by the spectacle from start to finish. There is but a shred of plot and the characters are barely developed, but the singing/dancing/design just completely blew me away and I gave into it utterly. It's not a great book and the music ranges from workmanlike to maudlin, but the utter commitment of the cast to the ludicrous proceedings and the absolutely overwhelming totality of the design had this jaded college student on his feet before the bows even started (and I hate standing ovations to this day).

That said, there is just so much that can go wrong with this show and any nod at all to the absolute jackassery that is going on everywhere at all times breaks the spell. This is how the trailer for the film makes me feel. James Cordon is like the eye of fucking Sauron winking at us to let us know it's all a bit of sport, isn't it? Which baffles me because he's proven time and again that - if he's not entirely sincere - he can fake sincerity with the best of them. And the bad CGI and ludicrous oversized sets just calls attention to the artifice of the whole endeavor.

Indeed, the presence of stars is distracting. I don't want to recognize any of the faces because it takes me out of the world just enough to make me go "no, that is Dame Judy and Idris Elba in make-up" - a thing I'd never imagine saying about either of them.

In conclusion, I loved it live and when I'm in charge of the giant batshit floating tire, you can be sure everyone involved will be approaching this show with the firm belief that they are fucking singing and dancing cats and all of this crazy UFO to heaven shit is real.
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:11 PM on December 5, 2019 [12 favorites]


> The one thing I do find slightly perplexing is the popularity in America given how deeply steeped in old British culture the lyrics/poems are. I was in 7th or 8th grade when it came out, and though I was certainly way more knowledgeable in things British and theatrical than other kids my age in suburban Kansas City, I would have been bluffing if I claimed to truly understand all the references.

it's not steeped in old british culture. it's steeped in american anglophilia. it's almost as british as the gateway arch.

ts eliot, i see you. i see your deal. don't try to blame cats on alw. cats is your soul, ts eliot. this mess is your fault.

your. fault.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 2:16 PM on December 5, 2019 [8 favorites]


that said: i'm really glad andrew lloyd webber decided to make a musical out of that eliot cat poetry thing instead of going with his first idea.*

*: a plotless sung-through musical titled nazis!, based on the diaries of ezra pound.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 2:21 PM on December 5, 2019 [2 favorites]


Our teacher had kept his head down, jotting in his notebook when he heard everyone else's choice. But when I announced my choice, he stopped and looked up at me, hesitated a moment, and then fervently said "Thank you." And went on to take down the next kid and their mention of Memory or Music of the Night.

This reminds me of when I competed in the local eisteddfod doing a group performance of a piece of text. Three quarters of the performances were from Little Women; my scene partner and I did The Parrot Shop Sketch because technically it was written down. We came second, in large part because we turned up with something that wasn't from Little Women, and would have won if we'd introduced our piece beforehand.
posted by Merus at 3:20 PM on December 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


Not really my thing, but in reference to Phobos the Space Potato's comment, a youth theatre production of this sounds like it could be pretty cool. Cats is a pretty odd piece of work, and weird concepts often translate in surprisingly entertaining ways when performed by amatuer / youth ensembles.
posted by ovvl at 3:56 PM on December 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I can't judge whether it's a good or bad musical, since it's the only live musical I've ever seen. My mother took my brother and me to see it in Paris when we were preteens. I remember not understanding anything at all but being awed by the choreography, music and overall show. Kept listening to the music for a while afterwards. Great memories (ha!) of singing Memory as loud as possible while taking a bath.
Then later I came across these lyrics:
We cower in our shelters
With our hands over our ears
Lloyd-Webber's awful stuff
Runs for years and years and years
An earthquake hits the theater
But the operetta lingers
Then the piano lid comes down
And breaks his fucking fingers
It's a miracle
And had to check who LLoyd-Webber was... Reading this thread it seems like a rather common sentiment.
posted by anzen-dai-ichi at 6:02 PM on December 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


Before I read all the comments I am dropping down to say that I love Cats, and most of the other things Webber has done, and am not ashamed to say so. I saw it on tour in Seattle in the late 90s, and am cautiously excited about the movie. I come from a family that has always loved musicals and Webber has never given me any reason to deviate from my upbringing. Cats and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat are permanently on my iPhone.

However, Starlight Express was pretty bad.
posted by lhauser at 6:59 PM on December 5, 2019 [2 favorites]


You know the weird thing about how "Memory" became the big song? I remember that when the musical originally came out, they were pushing a different song from the cast album, complete with music video.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:06 AM on December 6, 2019 [1 favorite]


Just recently saw Cats in Philadelphia. Made me come home and look up reviews. BORING.
posted by Goofyy at 4:40 AM on December 6, 2019


The film is either going to be absolutely awful, or absolutely brilliant. Either way, take my money.
posted by Optamystic at 5:42 AM on December 6, 2019 [3 favorites]


My exposure as a youth to Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals was all via the political parodies of CBC Radio's Double Exposure.

IIRC, Memory was a reminisce by Pierre Elliot Trudeau, though I'm not entirely sure about that.

Angel of Music was definitely Chretien and Trudeau. "Sing for me, Jean!" "You are ruining my beautiful voice!"
posted by clawsoon at 10:15 AM on December 6, 2019


When are they going to write a musical about dinosaurs ?
posted by y2karl at 6:37 PM on December 10, 2019 [1 favorite]


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