Growltiger's Last Stand
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Growltiger is a fictional character appearing in both T.S. Elliot's "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats" and Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical "Cats" which was based upon T.S Elliot's writing. He is described as a "bravo cat who lived upon a barge", one who scoured the Thames from Gravesend to Oxford, terrorizing the inhabitants along the river, including "cottagers", canaries, geese, hens, "pampered Pekinese", and the "bristly Bandicoot that lurks on foreign ships". Growltiger is usually envisioned as a pirate, although he is never explicitly described as such. He has lost one eye, and one of his ears is "somewhat missing" after an incident involving a Siamese cat.
"Growltiger's Last Stand" describes how he meets his fate when he least expects it.
Besides the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical setting in Cats the English composer Humphrey Searle composed a musical setting of "Growltiger's Last Stand" as the second of his Two Practical Cats for speaker, flute, cello and guitar.
Cats, the musical
The song appears as a reminiscence by "Gus the Theatre Cat", who "once played Growltiger – could do it again". In most productions, the actor who plays Gus then becomes Growltiger, while Gus's companion Jellylorum becomes Growltiger's love interest, Griddlebone. Growltiger's crew of cats is played by male members of the troupe with pirate accoutrements over their cat costumes.
There have been two different "last duets" for Growltiger and Griddlebone to sing during this scene. In the original London production, they sing a setting of an unpublished T.S. Eliot poem, "The Ballad of Billy M'Caw". This poem is a reminiscence of good times at the "old Bull and Bush" and the crowd at that bar on a "Sattaday night", in particular the barmaid Lily La Rose and the parrot Billy M'Caw. The initial New York production of Cats replaced "The Ballad of Billy M'Caw" with a "pastiche Italian aria" because the aria was "felt to be more of a crowd pleaser". The lyrics for the Italian aria come from the original Italian translation of "Growltiger's Last Stand". Lloyd Webber "much prefers" "Billy M'Caw", and in the 2003 UK touring production, "The Ballad of Billy M'Caw" was re-instated and has subsequently replaced the Italian aria in most productions.
After Growltiger and Griddlebone have finished singing their "last duet", the Siamese cats, led by Genghis (or Gilbert in the original London show and in T.S. Eliot's poem), "swarm aboard" the barge. Griddlebone escapes in terror and the Siamese make Growltiger walk the plank, ending the song. (In the New York version there was a short sword fight between Genghis and Growltiger before Growltiger's demise). At this point, Gus returns with a short reprise.
"Growltiger's Last Stand" does not appear in the 1998 filmed version of the musical – Gus only sings his initial song. This was primarily due to the age of Sir John Mills, who played Gus in the filmed version, as well as time restraints. Sadly, it seems that though he'd once played Growltiger, he was not, in fact, able to do it again.
The song does not appear in the 2016 Broadway revival. It was replaced by "The Awefull Battle of the Pekes and the Pollicles".
Actors who have played the part
Stephen Nathan, Eddie Korbich, Bronson N. Murphy (US National Tour), Matt Bartlett, Christopher E. Sidoli, Stephen Hanan, Ryan Bailey, Sal Minstretta, Nathan Morgan, Kelly Robertson, Bill Remps, Ethan Jones, George Breynard
- Lloyd Webber, p.122.
- Lloyd Webber, Andrew (2005) Cats, Vocal Book, R & H Theatricals, New York.