Cats
The company of the 2021-2022 national tour of CATS; Credit: Matthew Murphy, Murphymade

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You are going to see me attending Cats at the National Theatre this January at least once, maybe twice, definitely in costume. Before I tell you why I’m such a fan, I’ll clear the air: Based on repeated conversations I’ve had with people about Cats, it has become apparent that Tom Hooper’s 2019 film adaptation has completely displaced any reputation this story used to have. Once considered the odd but successful Andrew Lloyd Webber musical that gave us “Memory,it is now thought of as the Eldritch horror that starred James Corden. This is a tragedy because, in my book, the number one job of adapting a piece of art is to not actively shame fans of the original, but I digress. 

The North American tour of Cats is making a stop at D.C.’s National Theatre for six days this January, and single tickets went on sale to the public Monday, Nov. 14. Its initial run, which opened 40 years ago, won seven Tony Awards, including best musical. But why should you, a respectable local who reads alt-weeklies, be caught dead at this production?

First: A theater is a place to suspend your disbelief. Plenty of musicals are about issues we humans have to deal with on a regular basis, like breaking bones (I haven’t actually seen Dear Evan Hansen) and armed insurrections (thanks, Les Misérables, for showing us D.C. isn’t special). But what shows tell us about the things cats have to deal with on a daily basis? Webber’s musical will show you how frequently the species has to deal with cats sharing screenplays about how awful dogs are, and bad cats kidnapping other cats, not to mention magic cats wielding lightning bolts. I won’t speak for you, but I know I’ve never had to deal with that. It’s quite fun to go to a musical and not be reminded of your problems for a change (hear that, cast of Company?). At Cats, you can sit back and enjoy shamelessly whimsical absurdity on display.

Second: Cats is an adaptation of a children’s poetry book by T.S. Eliot, one of the most respected poets of the 20th century, and Nobel Prize-winning author of The Waste Land. All but one of the songs are taken from Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, a satire about these little furry animals who think they’re hot stuff but are actually a real nuisance (read: impracticality). Cats is the quintessential juxtaposition of the formal and the stupid. It is defined by its surrealist absurdity that basks in its own shamelessness, taking something already silly and demanding you take it seriously, but with a glint of humor in your eye. 

This is what Hooper’s film got wrong. In the movie, the Rebel Wilson cat makes asides about how the Jason Derulo cat sings with a high vocal pitch because he’s recently neutered, but the stage production at no point questions, or heaven forbid, jokes about its premise. These are cats singing songs about themselves that were written by an uptight Englishman (and composed by one, as well). Both of them knew how to appreciate small silly animals who steal things—four of the songs in Cats are about stealing things—as elegant, sophisticated creatures, and that is that.

Go see Cats

Cats plays at National Theatre from January 17–23. broadwayatthenational.com.