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#1
Old 01-17-2008, 12:42 PM
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Would Someone Please Explain the Appeal of Cats (the Musical) To Me?

I was stuck at home with the a bug yesterday, so I finally watched the musical Cats. It wasn't bad, and I'd say it was worth the $2.00 I paid for it at Half-Priced Books, but it wasn't that great, either. I've heard raves about it for years and I used to like and be able to play "Memory", but the show didn't live up to my expectations. The choreography was good and it looks like it's very much a dancer's and choreography buff's show, but there didn't seem to be much of a plot and the articulation left a lot to be desired.

Can someone out there tell me why it's so great? Or do others share my opinion?
#2
Old 01-17-2008, 01:02 PM
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Well, IMO, part of the experience is seeing it live; the set design goes out into the audience so you feel like you're there *with* the cats.

However, as it's based on a book of poetry, there really ISN'T that much plot to it. The dancing and music ARE the main part of it.

My dad (raised on things like Oklahoma! and The Sound of Music) took me to see it on Broadway 20 years ago, when I was obsessed with it. Being somewhat tact-challenged, he asked (fairly loudly) at the first intermission, "Is there actually a PLOT to this thing?" I tried to explain it then, but I am now forced to conceed that there is, in fact, not much plot.

The music is still pretty good, although the original poetry is better.
#3
Old 01-17-2008, 01:13 PM
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I think it's dated now. But at the time Cats and Starlight Express were big deals, I think, mainly because there just weren't as many musicals that were so intensely choreographed. Most musicals have extended breaks of dialogue (unless they are more like rock operas like Jesus Christ Superstar in which there is less choreography anyway) giving the performers a chance to rest more. Cats had really extended ensemble song-and-dance sequences.

For comparisson, think of how Michael Jackson's Thriller videos with the big choreographed dance numbers hugely impacted the way music videos were produced. MTV went from practically concert footage and low budget stuff, to large scale mini-musicals. Cats was in the similar time period. It broke from the typical Oscar Hammerstein narrative formula, where it's basically a play wherein everyone suddenly bursts into song once in awhile, to really innovative and hard choreography. It was a very athletically demanding show in comparisson to say, Showboat, and audiences were pumped after watching such energized show. Big spectacle.

There was an article in one of the theatre trade magazines about how nowawdays, choreography is so intense that vocal reinforcement is becoming more and more common (basically becuase the dancing demands are so hard, the performers would huff and puff too much, so sometimes they are practically lip-synching now).

Last edited by Swallowed My Cellphone; 01-17-2008 at 01:15 PM.
#4
Old 01-17-2008, 01:39 PM
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I had the same question when I saw it. I don't think the script had any verbs in it.

Also, "jellicle cats" sounds way too much like "genital cats" to be allowed.
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#5
Old 01-17-2008, 01:57 PM
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I think Cats is the type of show which doesn't transition well to a recording. It really should be experienced live, and I'm not so sure that your gripes would diminish all that much seeing it live.

But the music is fun, the lyrics are quirky, and there is something appealing to most cat lovers and many other theatergoers about watching a bunch of people in elaborate make-up pretend to be cats for a couple of hours.
#6
Old 01-17-2008, 02:09 PM
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That's weird. I'm going to see it at the Fox Theater tonight. I saw it once back in the mid/late-80s in New York, so it has been a while.

I just remember how different it was than anything else I'd ever seen before.
#7
Old 01-17-2008, 02:40 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Eureka
I think Cats is the type of show which doesn't transition well to a recording. It really should be experienced live, and I'm not so sure that your gripes would diminish all that much seeing it live.
This is true. Like Cirque du Soleil looks neat on TV, but it's "OMG-wow!" when you see it live and get a better feel for how physical it all is.
#8
Old 01-17-2008, 02:45 PM
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It was the first musical I saw and I loved it.
I saw it many years later and it was rather ruined by the sound. I spent the entire second half very seriously considering punching the sound tech. (I could have, too. He was nice and accessible) The reason? I knew every single word, and I still couldn't understand what they were saying. I've seen many a show in that theatre, so I know it wasn't acoustics of the building itself, and while perhaps one or two actors might not have been the best enunciators (is that a word?) I doubt the entire cast was stricken with that problem.
#9
Old 01-17-2008, 02:58 PM
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It's really an excellent kids show. I've seen it in London, on Broadway several times, and on tour. The simple plot, the dancing and the costumes all appeal to kids quite a lot. Each cat has a well defined character delineated in their song - and that's it.

One time we wound up in a box, with the dancers just inches away, and they truly were excited by that. By the end, most of the audience was either tourists and/or kids.

It's not subtle theater, but it was a very good introduction to musicals for children.
#10
Old 01-17-2008, 03:00 PM
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I saw it live on stage and wasn't all that impressed -- other than "wow, people dressed as cats," there wasn't much to it, and once Grizelda sang "Memories," the plot was over.

It's got a better-than-Andrew-Lloyd-Weber-average score, and a couple of good songs, but unless you like bright shiny lights over substance, it's not that impressive as a musical. Not bad, but not in the musical top 20.
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#11
Old 01-17-2008, 03:19 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RealityChuck
I saw it live on stage and wasn't all that impressed -- other than "wow, people dressed as cats," there wasn't much to it, and once Grizelda sang "Memories," the plot was over.
How long ago did you see it live?
#12
Old 01-17-2008, 03:32 PM
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Well the furries sure love it.
#13
Old 01-17-2008, 04:08 PM
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I've never seen the whole thing, just a clip of it once, in a theater class I was taking. I found it nauseating. And I don't mean that metaphorically - for the duration of the clip, I genuinely wanted to vomit. When the clip ended, and we moved on to a different muscial (Oklahoma!, I think) the feeling vanished.

I shudder to think what the effect of seeing the entire show, live, would be.
#14
Old 01-17-2008, 04:14 PM
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"Cats" live is great. "Cats" on tv, not so much.

When I was a tyke I had to recite "Macavity" for an elocution class, and that introduced me to T.S. Eliot's "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats". The poems easily made the transition to song and it was delightful to watch the musical. (Saw it once in London and once in Vancouver.)
#15
Old 01-17-2008, 04:19 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RealityChuck
I saw it live on stage and wasn't all that impressed -- other than "wow, people dressed as cats," there wasn't much to it, and once Grizelda sang "Memories," the plot was over.
That's "Grizabella" and "Memory" darlin'.

It's a fun show. The songs are hummable, the set, costumes, and dancing spectacular. There's a story that, when someone told Lloyd Webber half the people in the world hated cats, he said "I'll settle for the other half coming to see the show."
#16
Old 01-17-2008, 04:32 PM
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im in ur theeter laffin n cryin n stuf
#17
Old 01-17-2008, 05:17 PM
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I can has applause
#18
Old 01-17-2008, 05:50 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Zebra
Well the furries sure love it.
This one doesn't. I found it rather boring. Yeah the costume design is great, but there's only so long you can watch people roll around on the floor. And 'Memory' made me want to hurt someone.
#19
Old 01-17-2008, 05:52 PM
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Why doesn't someone write a musical about dogs? That, I would watch.
#20
Old 01-17-2008, 06:00 PM
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I saw it live on stage in Chicago years ago, and my wife and I liked it enough that it was one of the first DVDs we bought. And yesterday I found out that a friend here has always wanted to see it, so we bought tickets to the show next Sunday. Although she did warn me that we need to bring a handful of tissues for "Memory".
#21
Old 01-17-2008, 06:04 PM
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My husband used to live a half a block from the WinterGarden Theatre, where Cats had its 533 year Broadway run.

My verdict: It's a damn shame I'll never get those 3 hours of my life back.
#22
Old 01-17-2008, 06:07 PM
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Cat's isn't taken seriously by the theater world. When I was in school it was used as a shorthand for what was wrong with theater. Now that I have been out of school for a few years and have had some of the snobbery drop off of me, I can sort of understand the appeal.

The costumes are fantastic, and sets are amazing, the lighting and effects are all great. There isn't a plot, but there isn't supposed to be, and the vingettes are all lots of fun. Webbers music sucks, but it sucks in all of his shows, and he is the most popular composer alive today, so nothing new there.

The show appeals to the side of us that doesn't want to think, but does want to be entertained by the giant specticle of it all. There is a long and proud tradition of those kind of shows being popular in the theatre...and in film and television too.

So I guess the appeal of Cat's is that it is easy. That isn't bad, that is what it was intended to be; easy and spectacular. And it is is very good at being both.

Of course like all spectacular theatre it only works if you actually see it live. On TV it is just easy, which makes it dull and syrupy sweet. But on the up side at home you have the mute button to protect you from Webber's music. (I am trying to be less snobbish, I am. But I really hate the show, and Webber is a hack.)
#23
Old 01-17-2008, 06:15 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Swallowed My Cellphone
How long ago did you see it live?
And where? The best version I saw was London, but the road show version was significantly worse than the Broadway one, even late in the run. On Broadway they at least try to get Mr. Mistofeles magic in time with the dance.

BTW, I think Memory is the worst song in the show. I hate that song.
#24
Old 01-17-2008, 07:09 PM
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The appeal is that it isn't in any way challenging. If you lived in NYC and had relatives coming in from out of town who wanted to see a Broadway show, you could get tickets for CATS and you'd know they could go back to Podunk and feel good about it.
#25
Old 01-17-2008, 07:09 PM
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I saw Cats and Le Miz in London on back-to-back nights.

Cats was going to the ballet with music. It is one big dance number, and I certainly enjoyed the costumes. That is, I enjoyed my aisle seat and the female cats rubbing against me. Damn. Fun music, fun dancing, fun show. I don't need to see it again, though.

Le Miz, on the other hand, hit every single emotion. It was a story, it had great sets, it had great music with stories in each song.

Seeing Le Miz the next night shoved Cats into the "eh" field for me. I would go see Le Miz again in a heartbeat. I would only see Cats if I had free tickets (or some other social push).
#26
Old 01-17-2008, 08:41 PM
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Les Miz sucks too.
#27
Old 01-17-2008, 09:29 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Otto
Les Miz sucks too.
Except for the part where it is unbelievably awesome.
#28
Old 01-17-2008, 09:40 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Swallowed My Cellphone
How long ago did you see it live?
Maybe about 15 years ago. All clips I've seen of it since then looked the same.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Algher
Le Miz, on the other hand, hit every single emotion. It was a story, it had great sets, it had great music with stories in each song.

Seeing Le Miz the next night shoved Cats into the "eh" field for me. I would go see Le Miz again in a heartbeat. I would only see Cats if I had free tickets (or some other social push).
Cats was already in the "eh" field when I saw Les Miz. Not that was a great show. Better music than Cats by a long shot. "Master of the House" alone is better than anything Webber ever wrote.
#29
Old 01-17-2008, 11:50 PM
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I saw it live a few times when I live in NYC, and loved it. Since then, I've tried to recapture the experience with the video, and there's no comparison.

About the criticism that there's no plot: Well, how much plot should there be, it's about cats. A plot would be: Fluffy goes to the vet and gets altered. Comes home and coughs up a fur ball. Goes to sleep. Wakes up, uses the litter box, scratches the sofa and goes back to sleep.
#30
Old 01-17-2008, 11:56 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NAF1138

So I guess the appeal of Cat's is that it is easy.

I would say that is the case for the vast majority of musicals. I don't remember Rogers & Hammerstein being particularly difficult.

If you don't want easy, there is always the opera or the ballet.
#31
Old 01-18-2008, 12:00 AM
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Originally Posted by Troy McClure SF
Also, "jellicle cats" sounds way too much like "genital cats" to be allowed.
Jelly-filled cats.
#32
Old 01-18-2008, 12:22 AM
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Saw it in New York. Nauseating.
#33
Old 01-18-2008, 12:51 AM
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It's something people have heard of. So when your relatives go home, and people ask them what they did in NYC, they can say "Cats" and people go "ooo, was it good?" Instead of "what's that?"
#34
Old 01-18-2008, 07:28 AM
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I saw it performed live at London's Drury Lane theatre. I'm one of those who just couldn't, or can't, see the point. I can think of many, many better shows to go and see. The way I see it, going to read the original T.S. Eliot poems may be a good idea, if that's what you're into. Getting ALW to type them over lots and lots of instantly and enduringly forgettable tunes (apart from That One), and then getting some luvvies to dress up in cat costumes and 'sing' the results at me... no, sorry, it doesn't strike me as a good idea.

I did and do understand that it doesn't have a plot or a story or indeed any kind of structure at all, and isn't meant to, and that fans of the show are okay with that. Personally, I like people to work just a little bit harder than that for my money. If you want me to get out of my house, travel into town, pay London prices for a ticket (very, very expensive) and sit in your theatre for 2 hours, then I don't think it's asking too much for you to expend whatever time, talent and effort would be involved in embracing the concept of narrative structure. Just my 2 cents.

But yes, Memory is a darn good tune and I salute ALW for managing to hatch that one. Shame that in musical terms it's the only memorable four minutes in a 2 hour show.
#35
Old 01-18-2008, 08:09 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ianzin

I did and do understand that it doesn't have a plot or a story or indeed any kind of structure at all, and isn't meant to,

That isn't true.

I'm not a huge fan of the show (saw it last night), but we had a good enough time watching it. There is definitely structure and a (slightly insignificant) plot.
#36
Old 01-18-2008, 08:48 AM
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Went to see it with a college girlfriend. Could feel my heterosexuality draining away with each second spent in the theater. Mainly it seemed to be about the actors enjoying posturing and prancing in the cat outfits.
#37
Old 01-18-2008, 09:00 AM
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Well to be sure, it's best categorized as Theatre-Lite.

I think Cats is an easy target for the high-browed crowd to take pot shots as not 'serious' theatre but if you go in knowing what to expect really, you could do a lot worse.

I will say that Cats doesn't suffer from Second Act Let Down that plagues many a musical. I can think of several shows that have a second act opening with a strong number and then dissolving into forgettable songs and plot lines that serve to merely run out the clock. Examples: Phantom of the Opera, Les Mis and especially Rent. Just MHO of course.

The second act of Cats opens with Gus the Theatre Cat and then almost a separate play-within-a-play as he gears up to reprise one last performance from his glory days. A couple of other decent numbers are featured and then the finale lead up to, if nothing else, a more balanced musical than most.
#38
Old 01-18-2008, 09:27 AM
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I saw the travelling show.

I fell asleep.

I donít hate cats, but I hate Cats.
#39
Old 01-18-2008, 09:55 AM
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The original London production had a very hard time geting financed. When nobody would back it, Lloyd Webber got individual backings from about 5,000 to cover a quarter of the cost, mortgaged his house for a quarter, and had the theatre forgive the rest, banking on recouping later. It was a serious gamble that paid off, as they rarely do. Had it not, he would have lost his house and his reputation.

The original sets and costumes were so cheesy that the original book with photos of the Original London cast was deleted and replaced with one for Broadway.
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Old 01-18-2008, 10:10 AM
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I saw it on Broadway when I was young and should have enjoyed it, but I found in unbearably boring. The only good things I can remember were the dancers in the audience and intermission, where the kids in the audience could go onstage if they wanted to. Also I got to go backstage afterwards because my aunt knew one of the dancers--that part was the best part.
#41
Old 01-18-2008, 10:11 AM
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Originally Posted by MaxTheVool
Except for the part where it is unbelievably awesome.

Like the part when it's over and you can leave.
#42
Old 01-18-2008, 10:43 AM
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I went to see it in Southampton a couple of years ago during a comeback tour (still going: http://catstour.co.uk/) - I loved it, just for the sheer spectacle - the choreography was far more intense and impressive than stage musical DVD (which I have at home).

We were up in the circle, so didn't really get the benefit of the audience interaction that happens down in the front of the stalls, but even so, I liked it a lot - it's a colourful, funny, energetic musical. It's best not to concentrate too hard on the story, as that's really rather trite - what there is of it.

I liked it for some of the same reasons I like the Blue Man Group - not because it makes sense, but because it works really well as a piece of entertainment.
#43
Old 01-18-2008, 10:46 AM
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For the record, 'Memories' is my least favourite part of the show.
#44
Old 01-18-2008, 10:50 AM
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Originally Posted by Mangetout
For the record, 'Memories' is my least favourite part of the show.
It's MEMORY dammitt!
#45
Old 01-18-2008, 11:06 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RealityChuck
Maybe about 15 years ago. All clips I've seen of it since then looked the same.
I found it got dated very quickly.

Cats debuted in 1980 or 1981. The costumes and choreography made it incredibly innovative, most of the songs had grat pop music hooks, and it had the added bonus of an opera within a show, Growltiger's Last Stand, with its nod to Puccini. I became sort of a theatrical version of a blockbuster with a wide cross-over appeal for theatre and dance. Plus, it was riding the same pop culture wave that gave us the movies Fame, Flashdance, and a successful film adaptation of A Chorus Line in 1985. (Chorus Line and Cats each hed the title of "longest running musical" at some point, I think the current holder of that title is Les Miz.)

Cats was at its coolest during the 1980s schmaltz-fest that let cute people run around in tights and leg warmers. Just look at the way the cat "ears" look like Duran Duran hair!

But Phantom hit the stage in '85 or '86 with then-unrivalled stage effects, and that set an all-new benchmark for theatre spectacle. And weighy-themed shows like Les Miz and Miss Saigon had all the blockbuster spectacle, but with more sophisticated stories. So, IMHO, 1990 audiences and later expect more, than what Cats has to offer.

I first saw it mid-80s and though "Oh, wow!", seeing it more recently I thought, "Gee, that was a bit silly." But live (up close) leaves you feeling really pumped because the physical demands of teh performance is awe-inspring.
#46
Old 01-18-2008, 11:07 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mangetout
I liked it for some of the same reasons I like the Blue Man Group - not because it makes sense, but because it works really well as a piece of entertainment.
That's actually a pretty good comparisson.
#47
Old 01-18-2008, 11:15 AM
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Originally Posted by Annie-Xmas
It's MEMORY dammitt!
Fair enough. I wasn't really paying attention to that song.
#48
Old 01-18-2008, 11:24 AM
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Originally Posted by the Lady

I saw it many years later and it was rather ruined by the sound. I spent the entire second half very seriously considering punching the sound tech. (I could have, too. He was nice and accessible) The reason? I knew every single word, and I still couldn't understand what they were saying. I've seen many a show in that theatre, so I know it wasn't acoustics of the building itself, and while perhaps one or two actors might not have been the best enunciators (is that a word?) I doubt the entire cast was stricken with that problem.
It wasn't the sound tech, it was the dumbass show. My mother and sister saw it in Chicago and loved it so much they went out and bought the soundtrack. My mother was so into it that I had to listen to it in the car every time we went somewhere. Then it finally came to St. Louis, where we lived, and she was so excited to get to bring me to see it that she bought me a set of the tapes, instructing me to listen to them over and over until I had all the songs memorized, or at least a good recollection of them, because I wouldn't be able to understand a single word in the stage version if I didn't.

What? The? Fuck?

And guess what? She was absolutely right. I knew every word to every song by heart and still didn't understand a single thing they sang the entire show. Figuring maybe it was the venue; afterall, it was intended to be played in a small, intimate theater, I decided to give it another try when I went to New York a couple of years later. Still didn't understand a word and still hated it every bit as much, even though I could sing the entire score, myself.
#49
Old 01-18-2008, 11:25 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by panache45
About the criticism that there's no plot: Well, how much plot should there be, it's about cats. A plot would be: Fluffy goes to the vet and gets altered. Comes home and coughs up a fur ball. Goes to sleep. Wakes up, uses the litter box, scratches the sofa and goes back to sleep.
So why in Og's name would anyone turn it into a musical in the first place?!

Full disclosure: I do hate Cats, but I hate cats even more.
#50
Old 01-18-2008, 03:20 PM
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I think the music is better than people are giving it credit for.

Memory is a truly beautiful song. It may be cliched and overexposed now, but that's because it's beautiful.

Aside from that, I would rate the songs as follows:

Wonderful:
The Ballad of Billy McCaw (only in the London version)

Very good:
Skimbleshanks
Growltiger's Last Stand

Good:
Jellice songs for Jellice Cats
Old Deuteronomy
Magical Mr. Mistoffelees

Decent:
Rum Tum Tugger
Gus
Macavity
Journey to the Heaviside Layer
The Ad-Dressing of Cats
Grizabella the Glamour Cat

Forgettable:
The Naming of Cats
Old Gumbie Cat
Bustopher Jones
Mungojerrie and Rumpleteaser

Tedious:
The Moments of Happiness


Oh, and those of you dissing Les Miz, I have a question for you: What is it like to have no soul?
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