Back in Europe: Boat Life

In Which We Cover the Plot of Cats

Oh lord, here we go…

There were several shows available on board our ship… an acrobatic/wirework/dance show in which the cast sang several pop songs to help tell the story of… eh, I don’t think it mattered, my only take away is that Vertigo by U2 and Summer in the City don’t mash up as easily as they thought; a water stunt show in the aqua theatre, featuring high divers, synchronized swimmers, and acrobats, all plunging in and out of the water; something maybe involving ice that we didn’t see because it conflicted with our assigned dinner time…

And there was Cats.

Our core group was divided on this issue. Daniel was steadfastly against it; I’d seen Cats twice growing up, in two different countries, and felt I’d done my time; Daisy felt that if she were going to see Cats, she’d rather do it now when it was free; and Jenn was actively curious… and once I found this tweet describing the so-called plot…

…Jenn was committed to going.

And so we all ended up watching the matinee show during our day sailing from Naples to Barcelona, because a) it was free; b) there was an open bar right in the theatre; c) once Jenn was in, Daisy was in, and we all fell like dominos; d) these people once had dreams of being on Broadway, and now they perform Cats for spoiled tourists on the high seas so by Poseidon they deserved an audience; e) watching Daniel watch Cats was gonna be hilarious. (Spoilers… it absolutely was. Almost as funny as making him watch Fast and Furious.)

But as an added plus, I can now provide a concise yet thorough summary of the entire plot of Cats. Allons-y?

First… there was some debate over which was the cat who fucks. Based on skimming lyrics, I assumed it was Bustopher Jones, as he is described as a snappy dresser, while Rum Tum Tugger’s song is about how he’s a contrary asshole, and involves the lyric “Rum Tum Tugger is a terrible bore.” However… upon actually rewatching the show, Bustopher Jones’ song touches on his white spats, but mostly is about how much he loves to eat, whereas Rum Tum Tugger is costumed like David Bowie resurrected, and the cat accusing him of being a terrible bore is a rival male, who might not have cared for how the female cats, like The White One and The One Taylor Swift Plays*, are eyeing him. So… yeah. The fact that James Corden is playing Bustopher didn’t help, despite my desperate hail Mary play of “Everything I’ve seen James Corden in, he pulls!”

I called that one wrong, and ask for your forgiveness. Anyhoo…

(*I cannot be asked to remember the names of any cat who doesn’t have a full song about them, that is irrational.)

The Plot of Cats

Tonight is a special night for a specific group of cats called the Jellice cats, which are cats who…


Okay there are two songs about this and I’ve seen this show three times and I still don’t goddamn know what Jellicle means. 

Anyway, they’re cats! And they have three types of names, their human-assigned, vanilla name, which they never call “slave-name” but it’s easy to get there; their fancy cat name, unique to each cat; and their secret special names which we never hear even one of and will not be discussed further. There is a whole song about this, despite the fact that we’ll only be using the fancy cat names, the second type of name mentioned. None of this will come up later.

The Jellicle cats have gathered here in this garbage dump because tonight, one of them gets to DIE!

Sort of. Their elderly leader, Old Deuteronomy, will select one cat to ascend to the Heaviside Layer and be reborn into a new life. That’s not a joke. That’s the one thing everyone agrees on where the plot is concerned. So the cats introduce themselves, one by one or in pairs!

There are those who suggest that once we’ve sung about being Jellicle cats and having different names they’re not going to tell us, every song thereafter is a cat or cats volunteering to be sent to the Heaviside Layer. I’m not sure I agree with that, but we’ll come back to it later.

So, let’s meet some CATS! Old Gumbie cat is lazy! Rum Tum Tugger is a contrary asshole who lives to be a dick about everything, but it’s pretty clear he PULLS. Relax, I’m not going to some misogynist “chicks love assholes” place, because Rum Tum Masturbation Name is supremely confident in himself, and it turns out confidence is sexy to any gender.

Bustopher Jones is fat, Mungojerrie and Rumpleteaser are petty criminals, none of this is important except maybe Tugger, then finally Old Deuteronomy shows up to judge which cats are worthy of being ritually sacrificed.

Grizabella used to be hot and now she’s a bitter version of the second verse of Bruce Springsteen’s Glory Days and nobody likes her. She sings “Memory.” It’s the one song everybody knows, and Andrew Lloyd Webber must have suspected that would happen because it will be reprised at least twice.

Intermission! No, we DON’T have a story yet! The cruise people made Old Deuteronomy sit on stage and take photos with people. It’s his intermission too, ya dicks.

We’re back! And here’s Gus the Theatre Cat. Old Gus is a sad old wreck of a cat hanging around theatre doors, but claims he used to be a great actor, so I guess this secret cat society had a golden age of Hollywood somehow? Or at least a theatre scene? Here’s a scene from one of his performances, it is VERY racist.

Daniel damn near had a seizure at this point, it was hilarious.

Old Deuteronomy shakes the racism off by asking Skindleshanks to come down and sing about how much he loves trains. This takes about seven minutes and will not come up later.

Okay, so… that theory I mentioned before? First, I’m not sure I buy it, because all the Act One Cats except Grizabella seem pretty happy with their lives as is. Gumby Cat is comfortable with her laziness, Bustopher Jones has no complaints, Mungojerrie and Rumpleteaser are if anything too proud of their lives of crime, and if you offered Rum Tum Tugger a chance at rebirth, he’d shoot it down, because he’s a contrary asshole, the entire point of his song is that he never wants what you offer him.

But assume it’s true. Assume every cat that sings their life story is submitting themselves as a candidate for cat suicide.

Skindleshanks didn’t volunteer. Old Deuteronomy calls for him. So the question has to be asked… did Deuteronomy just volunteer Skindleshanks? Is the old man sizing the train cat up for murder? Who knows? Not us. Once this (admittedly melodically pleasant) song it over, we don’t hear from the train cat anymore.

OH NO! It’s Macavity, the evil cat! They’ve been scared of him the whole show, and now he’s here to cause mischief, and you better believe the corruptable lady cats are all OVER this dude! OH NO! He kidnaps Old Deuteronomy because Macavity’s a dick like that!

But without Deuteronomy, nobody can be ritually sacrificed to the Heaviside Layer! What will they do? It’s a moment of melodic suspense, set to a reprise of the slowest song in the show.

Then Rum Tum Tugger says “Why don’t we ask that wizard we all know to bail us out, all we need to do is sing about how great he is,” and the other cats are like “Sold, we did that for Bustopher Jones, and all he does is eat and dress like Al Capone, bring out the literal wizard cat.”

The cats sing, the Magical Mister Mistoffelees does some magic, Deuteronomy is instantly saved, Macavity is not seen but presumably says “Goddamn it, all that effort for nothing, I thought I was supposed to be the magical one,” and it’s one of the better songs. Which means it’s time for Grizabella to make this all about her and reprise the one good song everybody knows, singing it so well Deuteronomy takes her into space to be mercy-killed and resurrected, I guess.


Next: Stray boat thoughts

Author: danny_g

Danny G, your humble host and blogger, has been working in community theatre since 1996, travelling the globe on and off since 1980, and caring more about nerd stuff than he should since before he can remember. And now he shares all of that with you.

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