Every Friday, Sir Andrew Lloyd Weber (or whoever runs his YouTube) has been posting videos of concerts, tributes, and filmed productions of Andrew Lloyd Weber shows. They're available to watch for 48 hours, they're free, and not only are they delightful things to look forward to every weekend, they're also serving as fundraisers for various arts and health causes (he asks people to make donations if they can). Bravo, Sir Andy!
Of course, Weber’s work being what it is, there's a lot of weird backstory, trivia, and cultural ephemera attached to each weekly show. I'll be bringing you some recommendations and context about these things each Thursday or Friday, so you can head into the weekend fully informed about what's being made available. And ohhhh boy, are we fortunate that this weekend’s show is none other than 1998’s filmed direct-to-video version of the best/worst musical ever made: Cats! Now and forever.
I should preface this by noting that although I have always been a Musicals Gay, I was never by any stretch of the imagination (until recently) a Cats Gay. I saw a filmed version of the stage show back in 1999 when I was working at a video store, and as it played on the monitor I turned to my manager and said, “This is the worst thing I’ve ever seen.” He berated me for having terrible taste. He was right. I just couldn’t see what makes it great.
Cats, for those unfamiliar, is based on a series of poems for children by British writer T. S. Eliot. He would surely prefer to be remembered for his more serious work, which is why it’s such a pleasure not to. The poems describe various types of cats in human-ish terms, anthropomorphizing them before furries were a Thing, and then one day in the 1970s the writer of Jesus Christ Superstar decided that he should do a whole musical based on the poems. Sure, why the hell not?
One of the reasons the material is so strange is that "the Eliot estate insisted that the original text was used for the lyrics of the songs." So what you're actually seeing is a sequence of poems that have been theatricalized by people who were not allowed to change them.
As a stage musical, Cats is like an artifact created by aliens who have heard of Broadway, humans, and felines, but never actually encountered any. There is no story; it’s just a bunch of dancers in distressingly horny leotards twirling around and singing about what cats are like. That’s it. Nothing deeper than that. No deeper meaning is intended. As ALW once said to director Hal Prince, “Hal. It’s about cats.”
So, how does one enjoy this bizarre artifact?
There are a million different ways to consume the show, depending on what kind your own personal media-digestive tract. Perhaps you enjoy a drink or a drug before consuming something strange? Yes, yes, that’s fine, go ahead, this would be the time. Perhaps you are a media scholar and you wish to take notes and reflect on the implications of the work? Sure, yes, that sounds very nice. Maybe you like to belt along to lyrics that only make sense about 17 percent of the time? Please do that. Maybe you are a furry who also likes musical theater? Then you already know how to enjoy this show (also, we should be friends).
What I love about Cats — and also the Star Wars prequels, but that’s an apologia for another time — is that appreciation of the work is very much in the eye of the beholder; one simply has to resolve that they will enjoy Cats, and enjoyment will follow. That's what I failed to grasp so many years ago, and what I have only in the last year come to understand.
And so, as a newly-minted Cats gay, I urge you to go forth, meowing gleefully, and embrace the lunacy of this weekend’s show. Cats (the filmed stage version, not the recent motion picture version, which I love even more) will be available to watch from 11 am PST on Friday May 15 until 11 am PST Sunday May 17. And then it's gone again.
Get it while the getting’s good, fellow endothermic quadrupeds.