bit of History
Two Unforgettable Nights
Closing in London
Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats
Cats in Italy
- Trip reports
A Bit of History
first performance of Cats took place on May 11th 1981 at the New
London Theatre, that's the theatre where the show has been on stage
until May 11th 2002 (click here to see
the stage background). Andrew Lloyd Webber was inspired to write this
musical from a poems book by Thomas Stearn Eliot,
that was named The Old Possum's Book of
Practical Cats. He asked to Valerie Eliot (the poet's widow) if he
could work on this book and he started to write the musics of the show.
About twenty songs, each one rather different from the others, were the
final result. But, unfortunately, there wasn't a real plot that could keep
them together: there were different characters, each one with his way of
being, acting and singing, but there wasn't a real storyline to tie them
all together. There was not a real "glue" that could make
unforgettable the songs and give strenght to the whole musical... and the
opening night of the show was quite near.
Valerie Eliot suggested Webber something new. She showed him an
unpublished fragment from Eliot's poems, describing a new character: Grizabella,
the glamour cat. Just eight lines (you can read them in the Lyrics
page), but enough to inspire a new way of reading the whole work. Here
is a quote from Trevor Nunn about it: "The
discovery of the fragment 'Grizabella: the Glamour Cat' was probably the
fulcrum moment in our planning. Here in eight lines Eliot was describing
an intensely recognisable character with powerful human resonances, while
introducing the themes of mortality, and the past, which occur repeatedly
in the major poems. We decided that if Eliot had thought of being serious,
touching, almost tragic in his presentation of a feline character, then we
had to be doing a show which could contain that material, and the
implications of it" (1).
Grizabella, the glamour cat who
had an obscure and dissolute life, was che character who could create a
simple but effective storyline. Webber composed her theme "Memory"
during one single night; then Trevor Nunn wrote its lyrics (in part
inspired by another Eliot's poem, named "Rhapsody on a Windy
Night" - click here to read something
about it) and finally choreographer Gillian Lynne had to train the whole
cast in a very short time. As the situation was not enough difficult, the
singer Judi Dench, who should have performed Grizabella's role, a few days
before May 11th broke her Achilles tendon and her role was given to Elain
Paige, who became the first Grizabella of a long serie. Another
unforeseeable event was that, on the first night of the show, someone told there was a
bomb in the theatre. It was only a bad joke, but the show had to be
stopped and the theatre evacuated.
Then, Cats' history is well-known. The musical has been shown all
over the world, with a huge number of performances and tours that allowed
about 50 millions people to see it. A record that was just a bit obscured
by Broadway closing (after "only" 18 years on stage) and London
closing (after 21 years).
(1) From Cats, the
Book of the Musical, New York, Harcort Brace Jovanovitch, 1983, p. 10.
Thanks to Talis (webmistress of The
Cats Book Corner) for having suggested me this quote.