In Eliot's original poem, Old Deuteronomy is described as an ancient, wise cat who has "lived many lives in succession" and is respected by the other cats and humans (and perhaps even dogs) in his environment. His name derives from Deuteronomy, the fifth book of the Old Testament of the Bible, which shares the central element of law with the character (who is a magistrate).
- Well, of all things
- Can it be really?
- Yes! No! Ho! Hi! Oh, my eye!
- My mind may be wandering, but I confess
- I believe it is Old Deuteronomy!
Cats expands on the theme of wisdom by depicting Deuteronomy as the leader of the show's Jellicle tribe, providing comfort and guidance to the other characters. Deuteronomy also has the task of making the "Jellicle Choice" and choosing the cat who can ascend to the Heaviside Layer (Also spelled "Heavyside"). Much of Cats' plot is fueled by this; several characters perform and try to convince Deuteronomy to choose them. At the end of the show, Deuteronomy is kidnapped by Macavity and restored by Mr. Mistoffelees. He then persuades the other cats to listen to the outcast Grizabella, selects her to be reborn, and escorts her to the Heaviside Layer.
More has been revealed about Old Deuteronomy's past than most of the other Jellicle cats, although how much of it is true is debatable. He is alleged to have been alive long before Queen Victoria was crowned and has been mated numerous times (supposedly, anywhere between nine and ninety-nine). Unfortunately, Old Deuteronomy has outlived his partners, but has had numerous kittens. Although anyone who pays enough attention to the film will notice that in the song about him Rum Tum Tugger alludes to all of the Jellicle cats being his progenies which would explain their almost god-like reverence of him.
Old Deuteronomy has three songs in Cats, including the final number, "The Ad-dressing of cats." He is traditionally played by strong lyric baritone performers. In the 1998 video version of the musical, Old Deuteronomy is portrayed by Ken Page, who also created the role on Broadway. In the original West End production, and accompanying album, he was played by Brian Blessed, who was also Bustopher Jones. Old Deuteronomy was also played by Jeff Leyton in the West End production of 'Cats'. Currently, Old Deuteronomy in the world-wide tour is being played by Nathan Morgan, an American-born actor, who lives in New Jersey.
- Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, T.S. Eliot, Harcourt, 1982, ISBN 0-15-168656-4
- A Cat's Diary: How the Broadway Production of Cats was born, Stephen Hanan, Smith & Kraus, 2002, ISBN 1-57525-281-3