Jellicle cats

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Jellicle cats are a type of feline first introduced in T. S. Eliot's light poetry book Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. They were further developed in Cats, a stage musical composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber based on Eliot's book.

Detailed on this page are characters from the musical. The large cast of diverse cats is an important part of the worldbuilding of Cats. Many of these characters originated from Eliot's book of poems, while others are named after characters from other works by Eliot or were invented for the musical.[1]

Background[edit]

Introduced in T. S. Eliot's poem "The Song of the Jellicles", Jellicle cats were originally depicted as commonly nocturnal black and white, scruffy cats. Specifically, Eliot mentions that they like to gather at an event called the "Jellicle Ball". The name "Jellicle" comes from an unpublished poem by Eliot entitled "Pollicle Dogs and Jellicle Cats", where "Jellicle cats" is a corruption of "dear little cats" and "Pollicle dogs" of "poor little dogs".[2]

In contrast with their official poem, the Jellicles in Cats possess many kinds of coat-patterns, diverse personalities and individual talents. Many of the ensemble characters were created by the original 1981 London cast through extensive improvisation sessions held during the rehearsal process.[1] Musical theatre scholar Vagelis Siropoulos noted that the level of detail given to each character was crucial in fleshing out the fantasy world of Cats, with even the minor cats having established personalities, relationships and hierarchies within the tribe.[3] In the musical, sub-plots involving individual Jellicle cats include the strife of Grizabella, a former "glamour cat", and the kidnapping of the Jellicle patriarch, Old Deuteronomy.

A total of 54 cat names are given in Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats,[4] most of which Eliot derived from British culture, including references to Anglican traditions, historic and literary figures, as well as geographical locations.[5] When not taken from a corresponding eponymous poem, many of the character names from the musical are taken from Eliot's poem "The Naming of Cats".[1]

Characters in the musical[edit]

The ensemble characters in Cats are fluid, non-specific roles. Most are not specifically named in the performance, although the performer may choose to react to their name if it is mentioned while reciting "The Naming of Cats". The original London production in 1981 chose not to name the ensemble kittens, but over time these roles developed into distinct characters with their own personality and costume design. The Broadway production in 1982 made many different choices with assigning names to roles. This has led to several roles which are essentially the same characters under different names, albeit with subtly different costume designs and character traits. Most productions will therefore include one option or the other, but larger productions have expanded their cast by including all the character variations. Smaller productions often omit some of these ensemble roles.

Admetus[edit]

Admetus is a character used primarily in the London production, renamed "Plato" in Broadway and subsequent productions. His name is taken from "The Naming of Cats". His costume is ginger and white, and it specifically includes a simple makeup design that the actor transforms into the elaborate Macavity makeup and then re-applies after the featured scene. He is often recognisable as being one of the tallest cast members, as the fight scene between Macavity and Munkustrap requires him to be able to lift other male dancers.

Alonzo[edit]

Alonzo is an adult tom cat, the first of the Jellicles to be named in "The Naming of Cats". He is vain and insecure, often putting on a bold front to try to impress others.[6] He is one of the more flirtatious of the toms, socialising with most of the female characters, and is also depicted as more arrogant than the others. Despite this, he is often perceived as having a high rank within the Jellicles; he is at the forefront of the conflict with Macavity, taking over from Munkustrap after Macavity defeats him.

Depending on the production, Alonzo is sometimes the one to portray the Rumpus Cat during "The Awefull Battle of the Pekes and the Pollicles". His costume is usually black and white.

Asparagus (Gus)[edit]

Gus—short for Asparagus—is an elderly cat who suffers from palsy. He was a famous stage actor in his youth and likes to reminisce about his past exploits, particularly when he played the fearsome Growltiger.[7]

Bill Bailey[edit]

Bill Bailey is another London-based character, usually renamed "Tumblebrutus" in Broadway-based productions. His name is taken from "The Naming of Cats". He is a playful young kitten, often performing acrobatics in addition to being a strong dancer. His costume includes brown patches on a white base, suggesting he has a bi-colour tabby and white coat. The name "Bill Bailey" was conceived by Eliot for a cat that likes to wander from home, inspired by the 1902 song "Won't You Come Home Bill Bailey".[8]

Bombalurina[edit]

Bombalurina is a red queen, one of the primary female characters. She constantly flirts with the other toms, especially the Rum Tum Tugger. She sings "Grizabella, The Glamour Cat" and "Macavity: the Mystery Cat", the latter of which she performs with Demeter, another queen. Bombalurina's name is taken from "The Naming of Cats"; hers is one of the names mentioned as being "particular". English professor Dorothy Dodge Robbins speculates that the name is a blend of the words "bomb" and "ballerina".[8]

Bustopher Jones[edit]

Bustopher Jones is a fat upper-class cat with a "fastidious black coat and white spats". Respected by all, he is a man of leisure who frequents gentlemen's club for their fine dining.[9] The character's name comes from his eponymous poem "Bustopher Jones: The Cat about Town", and Robbins surmises that his first name is a combination of the names "Buster" and "Christopher".[10] Is usually played by the actor who also plays Asparagus and Growltiger, though in the original production he was played by the actor playing Old Deuteronomy.

Carbucketty[edit]

Carbucketty is one of the male kittens. His name was taken from one of Eliot's ideas for cat names, conceived for a "knockabout cat".[11] His role is primarily that of a dancer and acrobat, or what was known in the Broadway cast as one of the "acro-cats".

Carbucketty appeared in both the original West End and Broadway shows. In London, the name was spelled "Carbucketty", and originally played by David Baxter. On Broadway, it was spelled "Carbuckety" and originally played by Steven Gelfer. In the Broadway production, the actor playing Carbuckety also played "Genghis", the leader of the Siamese Cats who swarm the ship during "Growltiger's Last Stand".

In 1984, when the first national US touring company was formed, the Carbuckety role was replaced by Mungojerrie, a role that only appeared in the original Broadway cast during the "Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer" song (which was sung by Mr. Mistoffelees). In 1987, the Broadway show was reworked, the song was given back to the actors playing Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer, and the character of Carbuckety was renamed Mungojerrie.

Carbucketty's costume suggests that he has a bi-colour tabby and white coat. He has defined stripes as well as spots on a white base.

In the Japanese production of Cats, Carbucketty appears alongside Mungojerrie as a separate character.

For the 1998 filmed version of the show, the costume and role of Carbucketty was named Pouncival, as it was deemed more sensible for an international market to use the international names. For the entire 21-year original run of Cats in London, the part was named Carbucketty.[citation needed]

Cassandra[edit]

Cassandra is a brown and cream queen with a short wig and braided tail. She is aloof and somewhat mysterious. She is often assumed to be an Abyssinian, given her unusual markings and exotic short-haired appearance. Her costume is smooth and form-fitting and her make up is fairly simple, without warmers or fluff on her shoulders. In the film version, when not actually participating in a group performance, she would strike poses reminiscent of ancient Egyptian paintings, and acted as Mr. Mistoffelees' assistant in his magic trick to rescue Old Deuteronomy.

In the Japanese production of Cats, the character matching this description was named Tantomile. The name of Cassandra was given to the female half of the twins, alongside Tumblebrutus. This Cassandra has black and grey stripes along her legs and arms, and a distinct white belly. She also has orange markings along her body.

Coricopat and Tantomile[edit]

The "psychic twins", Coricopat and Tantomile are inseparable, identical twins, who move with perfect, choreographed unity. Their costumes are striped and hatched to suggest tabby markings, but they also echo the clouded moon featured on the set. They are the first to notice any changes to their world. Coricopat's name is taken from "The Naming of Cats" and Robbins speculates that the name was derived by Eliot as a linguistic variation of the "Calico Cat" from Eugene Field's poem "The Duel".[8] The name "Tantomile" was created by Eliot for a "witch's cat".[11]

In the Japanese production of Cats, Tantomile is the name given to the character of Cassandra, leaving Coricopat a solo act. The twin act in this version was given to Cassandra and Tumblebrutus.

Demeter[edit]

Demeter is one of the main female characters, usually portrayed as more skittish than the other queens. Her name is one of the "fancier" names mentioned in "The Naming of Cats". Unlike the other queens and the female kittens, Demeter is mostly uninterested in the adult tom cats; she shies away from their advances, and is noticeably hostile towards the Rum Tum Tugger during his featured song. Demeter is featured heavily during the Macavity sequence; she is one of the two main performers in "Macavity, The Mystery Cat" along with Bombalurina, is the one to unmask Macavity when he is disguised as Old Deuteronomy, and comes close to being kidnapped by Macavity during his fight with Munkustrap. Information given by cast members and show staff indicates that Demeter and Macavity may have some sort of history, implied to have sinister connotations.

Demeter's costume is usually black and gold, with patches of white and red, and she is notable for wearing gloves instead of leg warmers. Some productions choose to add more red to her costume.

Electra[edit]

Electra is one of the youngest female kittens in the tribe. She is striped and dark, perhaps indicating a dark tabby or tortoiseshell coat. She is a solemn, quiet kitten, often fading into the background and only featuring prominently in group dances. She looks quite similar to Etcetera, but tends to have darker colouring. Unlike Victoria and Jemima, she does not have a signature song or dance, but she takes part in the group dances, featuring as a dancer in "Macavity the Mystery Cat" in a few touring productions.

As a chorus kitten, she is often omitted from smaller productions (such as tours).

Etcetera[edit]

Etcetera is one of the female kittens, and like the others is a huge fan of the Rum Tum Tugger. She is good friends with the other female kittens, Victoria, Electra, and Jemima.

Her role developed from an unnamed chorus kitten in the original production, and was soon given a name and a more definitive character. As a minor character, largely unnecessary to the plot, she is often cut from smaller productions. When Etcetera is cut, her parts are usually given to Rumpleteazer instead. In the original Broadway production, Etcetera was included and she played the role of Rumpleteazer in a puppet show put on to entertain Bustopher Jones. However, when the production was brought into line with other productions worldwide, Etcetera became Rumpleteazer full-time, and the role of Etcetera was cut.

Etcetera's costume is mainly dark white, with black, grey and gold stripes on her sides. She is usually the one who swings on the trapeze during the prologue.

Exotica[edit]

Exotica is a queen who first appeared in the 1998 filmed version of the musical. The role of Exotica was initially created specially for Femi Taylor, but the character also appears in the South African and World tours of the musical. Exotica appears similar to Cassandra but in a darker palette, which makes her blend into the background.

Exotica has no singing parts, and unlike most of the other kittens does not appear in the end of "Macavity the Mystery Cat".

George[edit]

George is a male chorus cat specific to the London production. He is a patchy, hatched kitten, with a distinctive makeup design of patches over both eyes. George notably played the Rumpus Cat in the junkyard performance of "The Awefull Battle of the Pekes and the Pollicles", and was also featured as part of Growltiger's "Raffish Crew".

George was played by Steven Wayne for most of the entire 21-year run of the original London production of Cats. Wayne left the cast in late 2000, and the character of George was retired with his departure.[12] Alonzo took over as the Rumpus Cat, and the Raffish crew was reduced in number from six to five. However, George's distinctive makeup design was used on occasion by a swing covering the role of Bill Bailey, leading to fan's nicknaming the blend of characters "George Bailey".[citation needed]

In the Broadway cast, the role of George was eliminated, but designer John Napier assigned the George costume and makeup design to actor Steven Hack, one of the original understudies, who wore the costume when he would appear as Carbuckety, Pouncival or Tumblebrutus. George also visibly appeared in the 2005 Russian production of Cats.

Griddlebone[edit]

Growltiger's lover in "Growltiger's Last Stand",[7] in which she sings "The Ballad of Billy M'Caw" or the mock Italian aria "In Una Tepida Notte" (depending on the production). Played by the same actress as Jellyolroum.

Grizabella[edit]

Grizabella is an elderly, dishevelled female cat who appears intermittently throughout the musical. She is a former "glamour cat", who left the Jellicles to experience the outside world, knowing that she would be condemned for doing so; having returned, now old and frail, she is shunned by the other cats. Grizabella's story, along with her signature song, "Memory", is a main focus of the production; she strives to be accepted by the Jellicles, despite them ignoring and mocking her, and ultimately succeeds, becoming the one chosen by Old Deuteronomy to ascend to the Heaviside Layer at the end of the musical.

Grizabella's name is taken from an unpublished poem by Eliot entitled "Grizabella the Glamour Cat". The character, along with her featured song, takes additional inspiration from another of Eliot's poems, "Rhapsody on a Windy Night". Elaine Paige, who originated the character in the West End, has developed an ongoing association with both Grizabella and "Memory".

Unlike most of the cats, Grizabella's costume usually includes a fur coat. She is almost entirely grey, and her appearance is messy and unkempt compared to the other Jellicles; her outfit is meant to be reminiscent of the fine clothes she wore as a younger cat, now dirty and tattered.

Growltiger[edit]

A fearsome pirate that Gus recalls playing on stage in his youth, and who appears in Gus' memory during "Growltiger's Last Stand".[7]

Jellylorum[edit]

Jemima[edit]

Jemima is the youngest kitten. Friendly and idealistic, Jemima is receptive to Grizabella when they first meet and is sympathetic to the older cat's plea for acceptance.[13]

Jennyanydots[edit]

Macavity[edit]

Mr. Mistoffelees[edit]

Mr. Mistoffelees is "the original conjuring cat", a young tom with magical powers that resemble traditional conjuring tricks. While described in his featured song as being entirely black, the actual character resembles a tuxedo cat, wearing black and white striped legwarmers on only 3 limbs and a black velvet unitard underneath. For his featured performance, his costume is altered to feature a black jacket covered with rhinestones, white and black gloves, and black loafers. The character is commonly referred to as "Quaxo" during his ensemble appearances, letting Mr. Mistoffelees truly be a featured character during his performance.

Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer[edit]

Munkustrap[edit]

Old Deuteronomy[edit]

Old Deuteronomy is the wise and beloved elderly Jellicle leader. He tries to get the tribe to accept Grizabella all through the show.[14]

Plato[edit]

Plato is the Broadway equivalent of "Admetus", with the name being used for many subsequent productions. Unusually for Broadway-based characters, his name is mentioned in "The Naming of Cats". His costume is ginger and white, and like Admetus specifically includes a simple makeup design that the actor transforms into the elaborate Macavity makeup, and then re-applies after the featured scene. He is also one of the tallest cast members, as the fight scene between Macavity and Munkustrap requires him to lift other male dancers. The actor often has a background in ballet, as Plato usually does a pas de deux with Victoria during the Jellicle Ball.

Pouncival[edit]

Pouncival is the Broadway equivalent of "Carbucketty", a playful, bouncy young tom kitten. Pouncival uses the trapeze frequently during the show, and often joins Tumblebrutus in most dance routines. He has brown, white and grey tabby colouring, with a triangular brown mark around his left eye. Eliot named the character after Percival, one of King Arthur's legendary Knights of the Round Table.[11]

Rum Tum Tugger[edit]

Sillabub[edit]

Sillabub is the Broadway equivalent of "Jemima", and the name is also used for Australian and Japanese productions. Sillabub seems to be good friends with Victoria, Etcetera and Electra. Her costume is black, brown and red with a mainly white wig. Sillabub means "silly devil" (derived by Eliot from a blend of "silly" and "Beelzebub"),[11] and the character tends to be more jumpy and excitable than her London counterpart, Jemima. The actress often covers for Victoria or Rumpleteazer, and usually sings in a soprano voice.

Skimbleshanks[edit]

Tumblebrutus[edit]

Tumblebrutus is the Broadway equivalent of "Bill Bailey", and is similar to Carbucketty/Pouncival in being a mischievous, energetic kitten. The character's name is taken from "Growltiger's Last Stand",[15] specifically the Bosun of the Pirate crew; however, the ensemble character was not part of this sequence. When the role was originated on Broadway by Bob Hoshour and in Australia by Stewart Crowley, he was known as one of the "acro-cats", and specifically "the cat on the flying trapeze", who swung above the heads of the cast during the opening number.

In the Japanese version of Cats, Tumblebrutus was paired with Cassandra as the twin cats, rather than using Coricopat and Tantomile.

Victor[edit]

Victor is another character specific to the original London production. He is a blue-and-grey tom.[16] The actor playing Victor has occasionally been an understudy for the Rum Tum Tugger and Munkustrap.

Victoria[edit]

Victoria is a white kitten. She has no spoken lines, as her role is primarily dance-based; she opens the Jellicle Ball with a solo performance. She is one of the first characters to accept Grizabella, and is the first to touch her near the end of the musical. Although she is described as "pure white",[17] her costume often includes fur and pale hatch markings to give a sense of depth.

In popular culture[edit]

Although originally published as part of a collection of poems, "The Song of the Jellicles" was published by Faber and Faber in 2017 as a standalone picture book titled Jellicle Cats.[18] Madame Tussauds New York features wax figures of a few of the Jellicle cats from the musical, including one of Grizabella that sings "Memory".[19]

In the 1976 movie Logan's Run, Peter Ustinov's character makes an offer to trade: "I'll give you one of my best cats, my favorite. I'll give you a Jellicle cat."

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Sternfeld 2006, pp. 130–132
  2. ^ Now Lloyd Webber puts Eliot's dogs to music – Telegraph Milner, Catherine. Now Lloyd Webber puts Eliot's dogs to music. The Sunday Telegraph (London, UK). 20 January 2002: 6.
  3. ^ Siropoulos 2008, pp. 184–185
  4. ^ Robbins 2013, pp. 21–22
  5. ^ Robbins 2013, p. 31
  6. ^ Dawson, Lisa (8 June 2006). "Behind the scenes of CAT's @ Regent Theatre". BBC. Retrieved 30 June 2019.
  7. ^ a b c "Gus/Growltiger". catsthemusical.com (official website). Archived from the original on 25 March 2019. Retrieved 20 March 2019.
  8. ^ a b c Robbins 2013, p. 24
  9. ^ "Bustopher Jones". catsthemusical.com (official website). Archived from the original on 30 March 2019. Retrieved 30 March 2019.
  10. ^ Robbins 2013, p. 23
  11. ^ a b c d Eliot et al. 1983, p. 8
  12. ^ Stewart 2014, p. 117
  13. ^ Sternfeld 2006, pp. 160–161
  14. ^ "Old Deuteronomy". catsthemusical.com. Retrieved 20 March 2019.
  15. ^ Robbins 2013, p. 26
  16. ^ Stewart 2014, p. 118
  17. ^ "Victoria". catsthemusical.com. Retrieved 20 March 2019.
  18. ^ "Jellicle Cats". Faber and Faber. Retrieved 4 July 2019.
  19. ^ "Broadway fans will love this new immersive Madame Tussauds exhibit featuring 'Cats,' 'Phantom,' 'Big' and more". USA Today. 5 June 2019. Retrieved 5 July 2019.

Print sources[edit]