Friday, January 3, 2020

We Need to Talk About Cats

I feel like I need to start by giving an accounting of my history with theater.

My parents thought it was important to expose me and my sister to theater from a very young age. I remember watching movies like Calamity Jane and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers more than I remember ever seeing a Disney film. I was too young the first time I saw Singin’ in the Rain to understand what was so funny about Lina Lamont’s voice, but I still loved the movie and have seen it dozens of times. By the time I was fifteen, I had probably seen Chicago, in the theater, five or six times.

At four I was enrolled in dance classes. The one-hour class at that age was divided into 20-20-20 of ballet, tap and jazz/tumbling. It didn’t take me very long to realize I was only interested in one of those: tap. I loved it and still love it.

My parents also thought that travel was very important. By the time I was in my teens, I had been not only all over the U.S., outside of Texas where I was born and raised, but I had been to New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Mexico, England, Scotland, France, Germany and Turkey. Now I realize how unusual and privileged that was, but at the time it was just life.

I was in my first musical when I was six. I didn’t have any idea what was going on when my mom took me and my sister to the Fiesta Dinner Playhouse in San Antonio for an audition. I had learned “Hush Little Baby” at school that day, so when I was put on the stage and asked to sing a song, that’s the only song I could think of. Somehow, I was cast as Gretl in The Sound of Music.

My sister and I started doing musical theater at the San Antonio Little Theater (SALT). There was a producer there named Phil George who would put together musical revues. We were in Broadway Babies Encore and All Aboard, as well as the traditional musical The Roar of the Greasepaint, The Smell of the Crowd. By about that time, I was done with performing, though, and in high school I switched to working theater tech. I was a “ghost” in Blithe Spirit and built sets and worked lights for The Diviners, Bye Bye Birdie and Oklahoma! I even got hired to be the sound technician for a play downtown.

Not only where there dance lessons in my life, but there were also music lessons. Piano didn’t last very long, although I wish I had been forced to continue. By high school, I really wanted to take guitar lessons. My parents made me a strange bargain. In exchange for guitar lessons, I also had to take viola lessons and join the high school orchestra. They wanted viola for my college transcripts and I was happy to get the guitar lessons.

When I moved to Los Angeles, I stopped playing guitar and viola, but I started taking voice lessons. I had a few one-night-only shows in LA and had a great time. I’ve recently gotten back into some piano and singing, writing my own songs now and recording them. For a few years I’ve gone with friends to an assisted-living center once a week to sing for the residents.
Music, theater, musicals, movies, dance… They are all integral to who I am.


Let me get back to that first trip to London. I must have been in my late aughts or a tween. We went to see Cats. The Rum Tum Tugger left the stage and sat on the lap of someone in the audience. It terrified me a little that a boundary like that was crossed, but it made an impression. People were dancing and singing and dressed like cats. It was magical.

At that age, Cats was the best thing I had ever seen, right up there with The Wiz movie. I got soundtrack albums for both and played them repeatedly. I got a sweatshirt with the Cats logo, with dancers in the eyes in place of the pupils, and wore it all the time. I sang the songs to my own pet cats. I wrote down lyrics and memorized them. I got a copy of Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats with drawings by Edward Gorey. I wrote a report on that book in school. My love of Edward Gorey began, without me even realizing it.

(My actual copy of the book.)

Our family went to New York for a vacation and we saw Cats live again.


When I heard they were making a movie version of Cats, I was excited but apprehensive.

Over the summer, in 2019, I got hired to do some work on the first Cats trailer. I had already seen it on-line and, like all of the internet, I was concerned the movie was going to be terrible. I won’t bore you with the details of the kind of work I do, but it is for International Versioning and getting hired to work on the trailer meant watching it, very slowly, for about four hours while I did my work. By the time I finished the project, my apprehension was replaced with curiosity and interest. I really wanted to see the movie.

Cut to December when the movie was finally released. The reviews were terrible. My enthusiasm to see the movie on the opening weekend dwindled and I thought about maybe just waiting for streaming. But a friend called and asked if I wanted to go see it that first Sunday it was playing. I didn’t have other plans, so I went.

It was magical.

When the overture began, I was taken back in time. The music sounded just like the soundtrack album I was used to listening to. “Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats” gave me chills and made me cry at how beautiful it was. I cried when Victoria was abandoned. I cried during “Memory.” I cried during the new Taylor Swift song, “Beautiful Ghosts.” I cried when Grizabella ascended over London and disappeared into the clouds. The actor playing Skimbleshanks, Steven McRae, is an amazing tap dancer. His technique is impeccable. I want to learn his dance.

Maybe I was overwhelmed seeing it in the theater. I got the soundtrack album from a friend for Christmas and have listened to it. I cried during “Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats,” “Memory” and “Beautiful Ghosts,” just like I did in the movie theater. I forgave Rebel Wilson and James Corden for their less-than-great vocals, because they capture the characters and tell their stories appropriately.
Is Cats perfect? No, but it is pretty darn good. I really wish they would CGI out Jennifer Hudson’s snot. I wish the CGI when the cats were dancing was a little less disjointed, but that could only be accomplished by cat costumes instead of cat CGI. The dancing, still, was outstanding.  Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer uses the original London version, not the U.S. version, so I have to get used to that. Two songs I didn’t like were cut (“The Awefull Battle of the Pekes and the Pollicles” and “Growltiger’s Last Stand”), and I’m happy about that.

I will see it again. I will listen to the soundtrack album forever. I will cry. I will sing. I will dance.

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