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  • Writer's picturePenny Neef

The Case for Cats

February 6-12, 2023 - One Week Only At Chrysler Hall

The company of the 2021-2022 national tour of CATS. Photo By Matthew Murphy, Murphymade.


Words by Penny Neef. Images as credited.


Cats is here. The 4th longest running Broadway show in history- 18 years plus a stellar revival- is at the Chrysler Theater in Norfolk Tuesday, February 6 through Sunday, February 12.


Cats is a conundrum- people either love it or hate it. The silver haired guy I live with won’t go anywhere near it. Says he’s allergic to cats, both real and live on stage. I’d like to make the case for Cats. There are some excellent reasons it’s the 4th longest running Broadway show and winner of 7 Tony Awards, including Best Musical.


Cats is based on T.S. Elliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. Elliot was a dark and serious poet, the first of the modernist poets, but he loved his kitties. He wrote a series of light hearted poems about his many cats for his godchildren, with just a hint of darkness.


Andrew Lloyd Webber loved Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats as a child and took the words to create a sort of “concert anthology”. He was also interested in writing a dance musical, something he had not done before. Webber had the good sense to collaborate with Trevor Nunn, then artistic director of Royal Shakespeare Company. These two contacted T.S. Elliot’s widow, who produced more unpublished works about even more cats.


Nunn took a deep dive down the rabbit hole and into Alice in Wonderland. He and Webber worked and wrote together, creating a mystical Jellicle world, populated by cats, competing to ascend to the Heaviside Layer and come back to a new life. The audience must suspend belief and open their minds to a different reality.


Cats is a unique show. No one wanted to finance such a risky endeavor. Webber had to take out a second mortgage on his home, and advertise for backers in the London newspapers. It opened in London’s West End in 1981. Cats was much too experimental for a Broadway debut.


Aiden Pressel as Macavity by Matthew Murphy, Murphymade


Spoiler alert – Cats was a huge success, both in London and New York. The combination of that mystical world, sensuous and thrilling dance and movement, and absolutely brilliant songs all wrapped up into some kind of “theatrical magic” created an international phenomenon. Just about everyone on the planet knows the iconic logo.


Some people have a tough time suspending belief. They complain that Cats has no plot. There is no narrative. Others would say that Cats is all about forgiveness, community, and the family that you chose rather than the family you are born with.


I would say go experience Cats, for the first time or the fifth time. Dive into the world, appreciate the dance, and most of all, the music. I defy you to listen to "Memory", one of the most recorded songs of all times, and not get shivers up your spine. Grizabella, the slut-shamed cat, opens her heart, fights for a small slice of happiness, and pleads for connection in that song. It is a work of genius. The rest of the numbers are almost as magnificent.


Cats is meant to be experienced. Experience it now at the Chrysler Theater. For more information and tickets go to https://www.sevenvenues.com/events/detail/cats


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