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Friday, January 4, 2013

Cats and T.S. Eliot

 I love this poem. Tell me if this doesn't ring true:

In ancient Egypt
We cats were gods
We ruled the heavens
We reigned the earth
So kneel before me
I said come to me
Uh, listen to me
How about just a treat then?
Okay, maybe a toy
Some crumpled paper would do
I'm not picky
Well can you at least scratch behind my ear?
Can you at least do that?
Oh yes
You serve your master well

Cats is the second longest running show on Broadway. It opened in 1982 and ran for 7,485 performances before closing there on Sept. 10th, 2000. (In case you wonder, The Phantom of the Opera was first, Chicago third, Les Miserables fourth and The Lion King at number five.)  Cats continues elsewhere, probably forever.

It's lyrics and cat names came from T.S. Eliot's collections of whimsical poems, Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats about feline psychology and sociology that he wrote in 1939. Trevor Nunn added the contemporary update to the lyrics and story.

According to Eliot:
(If you want to hear Eliot himself read this poem, click here )

The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn't just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I'm as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
First of all, there's the name that the family use daily,
Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo or James,
Such as Victor or Jonathan, George or Bill Bailey--
All of them sensible everyday names.
There are fancier names if you think they sound sweeter,
Some for the gentlemen, some for the dames:
Such as Plato, Admetus, Electra, Demeter--
But all of them sensible everyday names.
But I tell you, a cat needs a name that's particular,
A name that's peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,
Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?
Of names of this kind, I can give you a quorum,
Such as Munkustrap, Quaxo, or Coricopat,
Such as Bombalurina, or else Jellylorum-
Names that never belong to more than one cat.
But above and beyond there's still one name left over,
And that is the name that you never will guess;
The name that no human research can discover--
But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.
When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.

For your renewed enjoyment while you are humming Memories, here is the musical rundown. Enjoy:

Act I
Overture – Orchestra
"Prologue: Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats" – The Company
"The Naming of Cats" – The Company
"The Invitation to the Jellicle Ball" – Victoria, Quaxo, Munkustrap
"The Old Gumbie Cat" – Jennyanydots, Munkustrap, Bombalurina, Jellylorum, Demeter
"The Rum Tum Tugger" – Rum Tum Tugger and Company
"Grizabella: The Glamour Cat" – Grizabella, Demeter, Bombalurina
"Bustopher Jones: The Cat About Town" – Bustopher, Jennyanydots, Jellylorum, Bombalurina
"Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer" – Mungojerrie, Rumpleteazer
"Old Deuteronomy" – Munkustrap, Rum Tum Tugger, Old Deuteronomy
"The Awefull Battle of The Pekes and the Pollicles" – Munkustrap, Rumpus Cat and Company
"The Song of the Jellicles" – The Company
"The Jellicle Ball" – Orchestra
"Grizabella, The Glamour Cat" (Reprise) – Grizabella
"Memory" – Grizabella

Act II
"The Moments of Happiness"/"Memory" – Old Deuteronomy, Jemima
"Gus: The Theatre Cat" – Asparagus, Jellylorum
*"Growltiger's Last Stand", incorporating either 'The Ballad Of Billy M'Caw' or the Italian aria 'In Una Tepida Notte' – Growltiger, Griddelbone, Ghengis, the Siamese, the Crew
"Gus: The Theater Cat" (Reprise) – Asparagus
"Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat" – Skimbleshanks and Company
"Macavity: The Mystery Cat" – Demeter, Bombalurina
"Macavity Fight" – Macavity, Munkustrap, Alonzo
"Mr. Mistoffelees" – Quaxo, otherwise known as Mr. Mistoffelees, Rum Tum Tugger
"Jellicle Choice"/"Daylight" – Munkustrap and Jemima
"Memory" (Reprise) – Grizabella, Jemima
"The Journey to the Heaviside Layer" – The Company
"Finale: The Ad-Dressing of Cats" – Old Deuteronomy

Confession: I'm a dog person... but one who has owned Hershel, the most poetically typical, lovable cat in a house with as many as five dogs at any time--and yes, Hershel held his own--so I am an incredible admirer.

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