Cats is a 1998 direct-to-video musical film of the long-running West End production of Cats, Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical based on Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot. Lloyd Webber himself personally oversaw orchestration for the film and called on Gillian Lynne, the original show's choreographer, to personally train the cast for the film. Trevor Nunn, the original director, did not serve as the director of this production. Andrew Lloyd Webber and others on the production team for the film wanted to keep the feeling that viewers watching the film could still get the sense of seeing the show live, by having all views be facing the stage, therefore, getting multiple views of the set, but still feel like the viewer is part of a live audience, with several close-ups. Initially released to VHS and subsequently DVD, the film has since been shown on television channels including PBS, the BBC, and Ovation TV. It was filmed at the Adelphi Theatre in London.
The musical centres on the "Jellicle Tribe", a tribe of cats who meet once a year at the Jellicle Ball, where they rejoice with their leader, Old Deuteronomy. During the Jellicle Ball, only one of the cats will be selected by Old Deuteronomy to go to the Heaviside Layer, be reborn and come back to a different life, which is known as a "Jellicle Life", just before dawn. The cats who may be considered for this honour, introduce themselves.
Act 1 The musical starts out with an overture. During that, lots of eyes of what they're known as "Jellicle Cats", which are known as "Jellicle Eyes" glow at the audience in an empty junkyard, from one to many. The cats now shut their eyes off and a few start to gather on stage and ask to the audience about what they can and do as a Jellicle Cat, on purpose, by singing Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats, as the rest joins in. The cats then see and hear a man from the audience asking to them, "What's a Jellicle Cat?", which they questioned it back, being annoyed by that. To answer that, in unison, they explain to him, and the rest of the audience, about different cats' names, by reciting the Naming of Cats poem, quietly, but fiercely.
Munkustrap appears and introduces the first cat: Jennyanydots (The Old Gumbie Cat). She "sits and sits and sits" all day and rules over the mice and teaches various activities to them. Jennyanydots finishes, greets the other cats, but is interrupted.
The music instantly changes and The Rum Tum Tugger makes an extravagant entrance (The Rum Tum Tugger). The Rum Tum Tugger is a tom with a wild mane and leopard spots on his chest. He is very fickle and unappeasable, "for he will do as he do do and there's no doing anything about it". He flirts with various queens in the tribe until his music is cut short at the end of his song.
An old grey cat stumbles out and looks around. It is Grizabella. All the cats back away and glare at her with resentment. The cats sing of her saddened, unfortunate state (Grizabella: The Glamour Cat), with Demeter elaborating.
Grizabella leaves and the music becomes upbeat. Bustopher Jones, a fat cat in "a coat of fastidious black", appears (Bustopher Jones: The Cat About Town). Bustopher Jones is among the elite of the cats, belonging to many clubs and making many speeches at various events.
There is a loud crash, and Macavity, the most wanted criminal cat, is thought to have appeared. However, two black and orange calico cats sneak out. They are Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer, two petty thieves, who are very mischievous, and enjoy causing trouble for their human family (Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer).
Soon, the Jellicle Patriarch, Old Deuteronomy, appears (Old Deuteronomy). He is a large old cat that “has lived many lives” and “buried nine wives”. He is the one who will choose which Jellicle cat will go to the Heaviside Layer.
Munkustrap and the cats proceed to entertain Old Deuteronomy with the story of two dog tribes clashing in the streets, but were scared away by a superhero-like cat called the Great Rumpus Cat. ("The Awful Battle of the Pekes and the Pollicles").
Another loud crash is heard, and the cats again suspect Macavity is around. He appears lurking in the shadows, but withdraws. And the cats come out again ("The Song of the Jellicles"). Munkustrap once again states why the cats are there and the celebration begins (The Jellicle Ball).
Grizabella shows up once again refusing to be left out of the festivities. Once again, she is shunned by the other cats, but that does not stop her from singing (Memory).
Grizabella leaves and the cats sing of "what happiness is" (The Moments of Happiness).
Gus shuffles forward (Gus: The Theatre Cat). He is the cat that once was a famous actor but now he is old and “suffers from palsy that makes his paws shake”. He is accompanied by Jellylorum, who sings of his exploits in the theatre.
Skimbleshanks is sleeping in the corner (Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat). He is unofficially in charge of the railway train. He is very clever and very important because if he is gone “the train can’t start”.
Another crash and an evil laugh is heard. It is indeed Macavity. He kidnapps Old Deuteronomy with his henchcats, and Demeter and Bombalurina sing of his crimes (Macavity: The Mystery Cat). Suddenly, Old Deuteronomy comes back again, led by a few henchcats, but Demeter realises "Old Deuteronomy" is an imposter and exposes him to the rest of the tribe. It is Macavity in disguise. Macavity battles against Munkustrap and Alonzo after trying to kidnap Demeter, eventually escaping.
The Rum Tum Tugger suggests they find Mr. Mistoffelees to help them look for Old Deuteronomy (Mr. Mistoffelees: The Conjuring Cat). Mr. Mistoffelees is black and small and can perform many feats of magic that no other cat can do (including producing "Seven Kittens, right out of a hat" ), and succeeds in bringing back Old Deuteronomy. He is praised by all the cats.
The Jellicle choice can now be made. Old Deuteronomy sits down and Grizabella appears for the final time. Old Deuteronomy allows her to have a chance to address the cats. Her faded appearance and lonely disposition have little effect on her song ("Memory").
The appeal succeeds and she is chosen to be the one (Journey to the Heaviside Layer). A large tire rises up with Old Deuteronomy and Grizabella. Once at the top Grizabella finishes the journey herself. Old Deuteronomy gives his last speech to the cats (The Ad-dressing of Cats) and the show ends.
Characters and cast
- "Admetus" – A cat who is rarely caught by the camera, and not named in the credits. This unnamed chorus cat is also referred to as "Augustus" by fans. However his role in the show and his costume design follows the London chorus character "George" in almost every way, barring his distinctive stage makeup design. He is tan, black, and beige with a soft, vague striped design. He is portrayed by Frank Thompson who is credited as the "Rumpus Cat".
- Alonzo – An elegant black and white tom often considered the 'second-hand-man' to Munkustrap. He flirts a lot, but can still be serious, loyal and brave. At the Jellicle Ball, he dances with Cassandra. Portrayed by Dancing on Ice judge Jason Gardiner.
- Asparagus – A general chorus cat. Not to be confused with Gus the Theatre Cat – in a stage production Asparagus is the chorus role of the actor who plays Gus, however Sir John Mills was obviously not capable of performing the dance role. Portrayed by Tony Timberlake. Tony Timberlake was due to perform Growltiger in the film, but Sir John Mills' filming overran and the section had to be cut.
- Bombalurina – A saucy red female, confident and outgoing as suits her bright red colouring. She is close friends with, or possibly sister of Demeter. She tries to share the spotlight with Rum Tum Tugger during his song, but he drops her and knocks her to the side, making her angry, but only for a moment. She is the cat that every girl wants to be, and every boy wants to be with. Portrayed by Rosemarie Ford.
- Bustopher Jones – A fat cat, a '25 pounder', Bustopher "dresses" in a smart suit and spats. As the upper class "St James' Street Cat", Bustopher spends his time at Gentlemen's clubs, socialising with London's high society. The third cat to be introduced to the audience- appears after the first appearance of Grizabella. Portrayed by James Barron.
- Cassandra – A sleek brown and cream female Abyssinian, with a braided tail and rolled wig, and no leg warmers. Cassandra stands out among the fluffy tribe and is somewhat mysterious. Portrayed by Rebecca Parker.
- Coricopat – Male twin of Tantomile. Both of them are intuitive or even psychic, perfectly synchronised in their movements and nearly identical in appearance. Portrayed by Tommi Sliiden.
- Demeter – She is very skittish, and reacts violently to the thought of Macavity. He tries to kidnap her after she exposes him in the guise of Old Deuteronomy, but Munkustrap and Alonzo rescue her. She is close friends with, or possibly sister of Bombalurina. She is in love with Munkustrap, and they share a kiss after Macavity's disappearance. Portrayed by Aeva May.
- Electra – An orange and black tabby kitten who is close to Etcetera as well as a fan of Rum Tum Tugger. Portrayed by Leah Sue Morland.
- Etcetera – A happy, energetic kitten who is a big Rum Tum Tugger fan. She begins squealing and jumping up and down near the end of his song. Portrayed by Jo Bingham.
- Exotica – A female character created for the video specially for Femi Taylor who had been part of the original London cast as Tantomile. Exotica is a dark, sleek shadow, rarely prominent in the film.
- Grizabella – The former Glamour Cat who has lost her sparkle and now only wants to be accepted. Portrayed by original London Broadway musical singer and BBC Radio 2 DJ Elaine Paige.
- Gus: The Theatre Cat – The retired Theatre Cat who is now very old and ill and can no longer perform. Introduced by Jellylorum, who appears to be looking after him, after the Awefull Battle of The Pekes and The Pollicles. Portrayed by Sir John Mills.
- Jellylorum – Named after T.S. Eliot's cat. A mature female who watches out for the kittens, and cares for Gus. She introduces him. Portrayed by original London cast member Susan Jane Tanner.
- Jemima – The youngest kitten, instrumental in the acceptance of Grizabella. Also a fan of The Rum Tum Tugger. Portrayed by Veerle Casteleyn. Her voice was dubbed by Helen Massie due to her accent.
- Jennyanydots – The old Gumbie cat. She sits all day and rules the mice and cockroaches at night. The first cat to be introduced to the audience. Introduced by Munkustrap, for whom she may have some motherly feeling. He looks out for her, preventing her from falling over several times. Portrayed by Susie McKenna.
- Macavity the Mystery Cat – The character is the show's only real villain and is a literary allusion to the Sherlock Holmes character Professor Moriarty. Portrayed by Bryn Walters.
- Mr. Mistoffelees – A young tom who has magical powers including the ability to create flash explosions. His is a dance role only; his song is actually sung by the Rum Tum Tugger. Throughout the film, he can be seen making the lights change, opening the car trunk, and making things disappear and appear. His signature dance move is "The Conjuring Turn", which is approximately twenty-five spins on one foot. He is the second to accept Grizabella. He is usually the first to spot Grizabella, and can seem to sense her arrival. He is summoned by The Rum Tum Tugger, to make Old Deuteronomy reappear, which he succeeds in doing. He is portrayed by Jacob Brent.
- Mungojerrie – Half of a pair of notorious "cat-burglars", Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer. Portrayed by Drew Varley.
- Munkustrap – A black and silver tom who is leader and protector of the Jellicle tribe. He also narrates "The Pekes and the Pollicles." Considered the storyteller of the tribe. He is most likely second in command to Old Deuteronomy, as he seems to try to protect the tribe the entire time from Grizabella and fights Macavity. Portrayed by Michael Gruber.
- Old Deuteronomy – The lovable patriarch of the Jellicle Tribe. He is very old and usually slow-moving. Portrayed by cabaret singer and voice actor Ken Page.
- Plato – A dancing role in the video, he is often in the background, performs the Mating Dance with Victoria. While the name "Peter" is used in line with the US and international productions, the costume design is that of the London production's "Victor". Portrayed by Bryn Walters, who also plays Macavity.
- Pouncival – A playful adolescent tom. He loves to annoy the older cats and play with the other kittens. He also appears to have a strong liking for Bombalurina, as he dances with her at the Jellicle Ball, and can be seen rubbing his backside against her thigh at the end of Rum Tum Tugger's song. Portrayed by Karl Morgan.
- Rumpleteazer – Female half of a pair of notorious "cat-burglars", Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer. T. S. Eliot spelled the name 'Rumpelteazer'. Portrayed by Jo Gibb.
- The Rum Tum Tugger – The ladies' tom. His temperament ranges from clownish to serious, and always flirtatious, especially towards Bombalurina (they are mutually attracted to one another and later become mates). He is one of the last to accept Grizabella and has many solos during the film. He is portrayed as a feline equivalent of Mick Jagger or Elvis Presley, and can easily be noticed by his wild mane. Portrayed by John Partridge.
- Rumpus Cat – The great spiky haired brave cat with glowing red eyes, as mentioned in 'The Awefull Battle of the Pekes and the Pollicles', seen as a super hero figure amongst the Jellicles. Portrayed by Frank Thompson.
- Skimbleshanks – The railway cat. An active orange tabby cat who lives on the trains and acts as an unofficial chaperone. Portrayed by Geoffrey Garratt.
- Tantomile – Female twin of Coricopat. Both of them are perceived as intuitive or even psychic as they are the first among the tribe to sense the presence of strangers. Portrayed by Kaye Brown.
- Tumblebrutus – a bouncy, troublesome young cat. While the name "Jonathan" is used in the US and international productions, the costume design used in the film is the London production's "Bill Bailey" (the names being interchangeable for the same character). Portrayed by Fergus Logan.
- Victoria – A white kitten who is extremely gifted in dancing. The "official" Jellicle Ball begins with her solo dance. She is the first to accept Grizabella. Portrayed by Phyllida Crowley Smith.
The video is slightly different from the stage production of Cats. Primarily it is shorter, the dances having been cut down during the Gumbie Cat, Magical Mr. Mistoffelees, Macavity: The Mystery Cat, and in Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer. The entirety of "Growltiger's Last Stand" was cut because filming overran. The production is primarily based on the London production, but includes some non-London character names such as Tumblebrutus and Pouncival for the London characters Bill Bailey and Carbucketty.
- Marks, Peter."Broadway's 'Cats': Restaged for Eternity (And We Thought They Were Kidding!)"The New York Times, 1 November 1998