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True, the musical may be difficult to enjoy for many. Even for Andrew Lloyd Webber fans, the show lacks the special effects (except, on some stages, the Mr. Mistoffelees number) or dramatic punch of such hits as The Phantom of the Opera, or the somewhat irreverent style of Jesus Christ Superstar. It requires the watcher to maintain (assuming a well-done production of the show) a certain childlike sense of wonder, which for many jaded multimedia-generation people may be impossible to regain. Only in such a state of mind can one enjoy the nursery rhyme lyrics and crazy characters to the fullest. In any case, in the hands--er, paws--of a group of skilled dancers, the acrobatic, sometimes contortionist, choreography is truly a sight to be seen.

"Cats." The rather un-menacingly-named villain of the video game Zero Wing. He is a cloaked anime cyborg with spiky green hair. Actually, he looks like a rather cool bad guy if you can get past the fact that he, like everyone else in the game, speaks not English but, in fact, Engrish. Thus, while any villain would boast of having captured all the heroes' bases, such a villain would likely not say the line "All your base are belong to us," as Cats does. However, despite his lack of linguistic prowess, Cats has become quite successful lately, appearing in music video, as well as making the cover of Time Magazine. He has even been spotted gracing the cover of a GURPS supplement. Not bad for a guy who can only say things like "You have no chance to survive make your time."

"Now and Forever"

Cats is the fifth work of musical theatre mastermind Andrew Lloyd Webber (the never-performed "The likes of US" aside), renowned for its longevity and popularity, if not necessarily for its actual content. The musical is possibly the best known in the world, at least from the modern era, most of the other contenders also being Webber productions.

Cats has been performed by stationary and touring companies in several dozen countries, and spun off a (slightly condensed) video version, but most attention tends to fall on the New York and London runs. The London run began in the New London Theatre on May 11, 1981, and ended 21 years later to the day, as the longest-running musical in England, with 8,950 showings under its belt. It would have been the longest-running theatrical performance of any kind in the country if not for Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap, the longest-running play in the world, continually showing since 1952. The American run was conducted in the Winter Garden Theatre on Broadway from October 7, 1982 to September 10, 2000, for a total of 7,485 performances, at the time the longest-running Broadway show in history. (This title would be stolen by Webber's The Phantom of the Opera in early 2006.)

The concept and musical numbers of Cats are adapted pretty faithfully from T.S. Eliot's book of children's poetry, Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, although the Grizabella plotline which serves as the basis of several songs, including Memory, the show's biggest number, was taken from some of Eliot's unpublished work. Webber wrote the music and Trevor Nunn was chosen to work on the lyrics, which caused some tension with Tim Rice, whom Webber had worked with since he was 17, though the two were somewhat estranged at the time.

As Possum was mostly a collection of character sketches, so is Cats, albeit in musical form. Many "Jellicle" cats, a term defined several various ways in the play but never clearly and definitively explained, have gathered in a junkyard for the annual Jellicle Ball. Here their leader, Old Deuteronomy, will choose one to ascend to the Heaviside Layer, presented as a sort of feline heaven, and be reborn. The lives of several cats, presumably contenders for this honor, are described in song, trickster Macavity kidnaps Old Deuteronomy, who must be rescued, and eventually Grizabella, a sad, tattered female who once left the Jellicles and now seeks to return, is chosen.

That's really all there is - not very complex, and not particularly loved by theatre critics (being theatre critics), it made a virtue and drawing point of its simplicity and accessibility, and relied for its longevity in large part on tourists. Like the Parthenon, or the Eiffel Tower, if you were visiting London or New York, seeing Cats was just something you did. Vaguely resented for inspiring a "dumbing down" of musical theatre, it's at least grudgingly respected in some quarters for serving as millions' first encounter with musicals, sparking new interest in the genre.

Cats has a central cast of 24, with scores more among the chorus and dancers. All perform in intricate makeup and yak hair costumes that the show is particularly known for - the costumes are very detailed and realistic, even up close, as when the production calls for the actors to wander about the seats acting catlike, and strike a good balance between the desire to highlight the characters' feline grace and beauty and the pragmatic need for anthropomorphism. The junkyard sets are likewise complex, and their contribution to performances should not be underestimated. Built larger-than-life for a sense of proportion and wonder, the sets also included several dynamic elements, with the inclusion of such pieces as the deck of a pirate ship and a tire lifted on a hydraulic column for the final ascent to the Heaviside Layer forcing the Winter Garden Theatre stage to be torn down and purpose-rebuilt for the show. The lauded layout is generally considered to have sparked a trend towards the grandiose in musical theatre set design, and served as the inspiration for such later stage crew headaches as the helicopter landing in Miss Saigon.

Program (Broadway*)

Act I

    - Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats
    - The Naming of Cats
    - The Old Gumbie Cat
    - The Rum Tum Tugger
    - Grizabella: the Glamour Cat
    - Bustopher Jones
    - Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer
    - Old Deuteronomy
    - The Pekes and the Pollicles
    - The Jellicle Ball
    - Grizabella
Act II
    - The Moments of Happiness
    - Gus: the Theatre Cat
    - Growltiger's Last Stand
    - In Una Tepida Notte Translation
    - Skimbleshanks: the Railway Cat
    - Macavity: the Mystery Cat
    - Mr. Mistoffelees
    - Memory
    - The Journey to Heaviside Layer
    - The Ad-dressing of Cats

*The order, lyrics, and even existence of some of the songs, as well as some character names, differ slightly between the American and British runs. Shows in other countries are conducted in the native language.

I would like to tell you about a bad time I had recently.

As you know, I have recently been bending over backwards to make a favorable impression on Jonathan Ticklebutt because I want very much for him to like me. This is due to the gorgeousness of his face, which is truly something.

Apparently, since his arrival in the human dimension, he has been going out to the movies every night. I figured, sure, they don't have movies in the elven dimension so why not? But then I found out that he goes to the same movie every night. He goes to see a movie called Cats which is based on a famous musical from the 20th century. I figured, "Huh, movie must be good if he goes this many times," but then I realized that Jonathan Ticklebutt isn't the brightest elf on the ferry.

I was intrigued by his obsession with this movie and asked if I might accompany him on one of his viewings. He seemed ambivalent.

"You wouldn't like it, Friend Behr. It is mental."

"You mean it requires a lot of deep thought? I am a scholarly man, you know."

"This is well known, your scholarship and such. This is not what I mean. The movie is mental."

"I do not follow."

"Come then, learn for yourself new learnings from the well of new learnings available to you in this world and others."

It was on this same day that Jonathan Ticklebutt would bring me Chopper in his new format. He was served to me in a shoebox (linked in case you don't know what that is for some reason I cannot fathom). Inside was a mass of quivering flesh that could speak some rudimentary phrases.

As you can imagine, I had a lot of questions about Chopper's new format. After all, he is by default my best friend, and I want to make sure he understands that he still is even as I am about to get married to Trixie Horn. I was able to learn from my questioning of Jonathan Ticklebutt that aside from being able to speak rudimentary phrases and break wind, Chopper could consume nutrients in his new format. This was a breath of fresh air and a sigh of relief in one package.

Given what I learned about Chopper's new format, my first thought after getting tickets (Chopper gets into movies for free in his new format, which is a plus) was to get some vital nutrients for Chopper as Jonathan Ticklebutt wasn't sure when he'd last received any. There was a place to buy beer and wine and I brought Chopper over to that counter and ordered two beers. One was for Chopper, but the young lady behind the counter said I needed ID for the second beer. I was obviously old enough, having fought in World War II, so I opened the box and showed her the quivering mass of bloody flesh that was Chopper. "The second beer is for HIM" I explained to her.

Some thought was given to jumping over the counter and butchering her after she made a funny face at me, but I am trying to make better decisions, so I told her that I was a veteran of World War II (cleverly not mentioning what side I fought on) and she gave me the two beers. I picked Chopper's box (with him in it) up off the counter and followed Jonathan Ticklebutt into the movies after giving Chopper a couple of strong dousings from his beer cup.

"I find what you are doing to be absolutely nauseating," Jonathan Ticklebutt told me as he watched me pouring beer over Chopper and poking at him with my fingers and giggling like a rented schoolgirl.

"It has to be done," I explained, but then the movie began.

Due to being straight and rarely dating classy women, I haven't been to a lot of Broadway plays and I had no idea what Cats was about other than it probably involved cats. Now, as you know, I feel cats need to be slaughtered along with all other animal life on this planet so that we don't end up with any Planet of the Apes type scenarios developing. Still, I have been trying to keep an open mind lately and make better choices. Because of my rather stodgy background as a world renowned businessman and bestselling author, I had no idea what to do when all these weird looking cat people appeared on the big screen dancing around in some dark alley like crazed perverts. It made me very nervous to see this kind of thing and I started to panic. That panic caused me to jump in the air, spill both beers that I was holding, and throw the box that housed Chopper in his new format flying through the air. He would land seven rows in front of us in a theatre that was inexplicably crowded for a Tuesday matinee of whatever this was.

The logistics of getting my friend back were especially difficult, given that I am a morbidly obese man who is almost ninety and the theatre was standing room only even though that isn't legal in a movie theatre any longer. I was boxed in, and on the screen I could see creepy crotch bulges on the naked bodies of these cat people. Where the hell were their genitals? They were naked and covered with fur. What the hell was going on? Did one have to slice these cat people open to get to their goodies? I was horrified and I was boxed in. Not only that, I could see some people had picked up Chopper (no longer in his box) and were trying to pass him down the row to some people who offered to throw him in the trash container outside the theater.

I was fighting to get through the crowd, trying not to use my X-Man type hand to slaughter them all (due to trying to make better choices), as Chopper's fate hung in the balance. I cried out, "That is my friend!" but was told to sit down and to "shush." It was becoming horrifying, and then I broke down and cried.

When I did that, I felt the warm embrace of Jonathan Ticklebutt surround me. He'd seen my distress and came over to comfort me with a manly hug the reinforced our natural heterosexuality in ways I can never begin to describe. We kissed briefly, I told him how I thought he had the universe's most gorgeous face, and he told me, "You're not half bad, Friend Behr." That was touching.

This did not resolve the logistical nightmare that persisted in regards to recovering Chopper from the angry horde of people who were getting more and more freaked out by this movie by the minute. People were getting up, their pupils big and black, and moving in strange gyrations right there in the theater. There were howls of laughter from the other side of the theater. I didn't know what to do. The horde was converging and Chopper was being manhandled and thrown around like yesterday's garbage.

The crowd was becoming more and more crazed, jumping up, trying to run out of the movie but being boxed in by everyone else trying to get out. There was a near riot, and then I saw them. There were three individuals who had come to the movie dressed like characters n the movie and it was as if the movie had taken over the real world. I began pissing myself with such ferocity at that point as I fought through my endless tears that I tore right through my extremely thin material pants and my urine was shooting in all directions. There was absolutely no way to control it or stop it, and that drove the crowd into an even crazier panic.

Jonathan Ticklebutt tried to calm me by gently asking why I sometimes write "theatre" and sometimes write "theater" and I explained that some of my readers are English. He nodded in understanding and told me to remain calm. We would recover Chopper, but it would take time. We were in the middle of a very long row of seats and everyone was either dancing like they were possessed or screaming and trying to get out of the theatre. I settled down and tried to avoid looking at the screen, where some cat lady was doing stuff with cockroaches that I couldn't look at or I'd be changed forever.

One of the people who was dressed like the cat people in the movie was looking right at me from the aisle where he was gyrating unnaturally. I tried to look away, but he'd already zeroed in on me and was now climbing over the seats like a real cat trying to get to me.

"It is a hit!" Jonathan Ticklebutt cried out suddenly. "They're going to try to take you out!"

"On whose orders?"

"Can't be sure, but someone doesn't like that you've aligned yourself with the elves over your own people, probably the purists who don't believe the elves need to associate with any other species in any of the other dimensions, not even the Behr dimension."

"What do we do?"

"We need to get in touch with the centaur vanguard. If it is elven purists, as I believe, then they will also be opposed to the elven alliance with the centaurs."

"Indeed. That makes a great deal of sense."

"For now, we just need to get out of here. I wish we could stay and enjoy the movie, but this has never happened before. Usually I am either alone in the theater or a handful of old ladies is sitting in the back passing a reefer cigarette back and forth. You are going to have to utilize your X-Man type hand, but try to only take out the assassins."

"They're the ones dressed like cats?"

"Yes, a great cover that avoided them drawing attention to themselves in any way until the last moment." Jonathan Ticklebutt scanned the area and then grabbed my shoulders and shook me. "Some kids just threw Chopper up against the ceiling and he stuck there. I can talk to the maintenance people and explain that is an actual person with real feelings up there and not an old pizza."

"That would be a wise course of action," I replied thoughtfully. My problem at that point was that my motel room nightstand leg that I substituted for my lower left leg last month had gotten stuck between the row of seats in front of us and the step behind them. It was jammed in there good and there was nothing I could do. The cats on screen were singing and dancing and freaking me out and the cat man and his two cat lady friends were converging on my location.

Jonathan Ticklebutt took out his cell phone, and despite all the signs saying not to use your cell phone in the theatre, he began placing a call.

"Yes, this is T-Butt. Tell David we need a tactical response unit to the showing of Cats at the Oneida Movieplex near the junction of Routes 5 & 46. You got that?" Jonathan nodded before hanging up, indicating that the message had been received. "There will be a centaur tactical unit here within the hour."

"Within the hour? Those cat people are going to be eating me long before then."

An explosion of blue light happened down near the movie screen and bolts of electricity shot through the theater, increasing the panic while the movie just kept playing, making it so difficult to look away from the horrors on the screen. Then I saw it was the great Gadzooks, the elven mystic who had chartered my mission. She shot a bolt of electricity right at the projectors and the movie was finally put to an end. The cat people had turned away from me and ran out of the theatre, climbing over seats and walls as they made their catlike escapes. Once I relaxed, I was able to extricate my wooden leg from between the row of seats in front of us and could once again move relatively freely.

"I've redirected the centaur tactical response unit," she informed us after we got together in the Starbucks down the street from the cinema. "There is a new threat to the orderly takeover of this dimension."

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