Cats is a musical based on T.S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats.


Original cast (1981)

Video Cast (1998)


After the overture, the Cats gather on stage and explain the Jellicle tribe and their purpose. The Cats (who break the fourth wall throughout the production) then notice that they are being watched by the human audience, and proceed to explain how the different Cats of the tribe are named. This is followed by a dance from Victoria the White Cat that signals the beginning of the Jellicle Ball. Munkustrap explains that tonight is the night when Old Deuteronomy will choose a cat to be reborn into a new life on the Heaviside Layer.

Munkustrap appears and introduces Jennyanydots, a large tabby cat. She "sits and sits and sits and sits" all day, while at night she teaches the mice and cockroaches various activities. Jennyanydots finishes, greets the other cats, but is interrupted. The music instantly changes and The Rum Tum Tugger makes an extravagant entrance. He is very fickle and unappeasable, "for he will do as he do and there's no doing anything about it".

A shabby old grey cat stumbles out and looks around. It is Grizabella. All the Cats back away in fear and disgust and sing of her unfortunate state. Grizabella leaves and the music changes to a cheerful upbeat as Bustopher Jones, a fat cat in "a coat of fastidious black", appears. Bustopher Jones is among the elite of the cats, and visits prestigious gentlemen's clubs. A loud crash then startles the tribe and the Cats run off the stage in fright. Hushed giggling signals the entrance of Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer, a pair of near-identical Cats. They are petty burglars, very mischievous, and they enjoy causing trouble for human families.

Finally, the Jellicle patriarch, Old Deuteronomy, appears. He is a large old Cat that "has lived many lives" and "buried nine wives (And more, I am tempted to say – ninety-nine)". He is the one who will choose which Jellicle Cat will go to the Heaviside Layer. In most productions, at this point, the cats perform a song for Old Deuteronomy. It is a story about two dog tribes clashing in the street and subsequently being scared away by the Great Rumpus Cat, a cat with flashing red eyes. After a few words from Old Deuteronomy on the destiny of Jellicle Cats and Pollicle Dogs, a second loud crash, presumably from Macavity, sends the alarmed Cats scurrying. Old Deuteronomy calls the Cats back and the main celebration begins, in which the cats sing and display their "Terpsichorean powers". After the Ball, Grizabella reappears and tries to dance, but her age and decrepit condition prevent her from doing so. Once again, she is shunned by the other Cats.

After the Jellicle Ball, Old Deuteronomy sings of "what happiness is", referring to Grizabella. The Cats do not understand, so he repeats the message again and Jemima sings it for everyone to hear. Gus — short for Asparagus — shuffles forward. He is the cat that was once a famous actor but is now old and "suffers from palsy which makes his paws shake." He is accompanied by Jellylorum, who tells of his exploits. Gus then remembers how he once played the infamous Growltiger, Terror of the Thames. He tells the story about the pirate's romance with Griddlebone and how he was overtaken by the Siamese and forced to walk the plank.

Back in the present, after Gus exits, Skimbleshanks is seen sleeping in the corner. He is the Cat who is unofficially in charge of the night train to Glasgow. Skimbleshanks is considered vital to the train, as without him "the train can't start". Within his song, a whole steam train engine is assembled out of objects in the junkyard: Various Cats spin wheels, hold up the structure, and light the headlights.

With a third crash and an evil laugh, the "most wanted" cat Macavity appears. He is a "master criminal" and is never found at the scene of the crime. Macavity's minions throw a net over Old Deuteronomy and capture him. As the other Cats try to follow him, Demeter and Bombalurina sing what they know about Macavity. When they are finished, Macavity returns disguised as Old Deuteronomy. When revealed by Demeter, he fights with Munkustrap and Alonzo. Though he holds his own for a time, Macavity is overwhelmed by the two younger tomcats; as the rest of the tribe begin to gang up and surround him, he shorts out the stage lights and escapes in the confusion.

Rum Tum Tugger suggests that the Cats find Mr. Mistoffelees "the original conjuring cat". Mr. Mistoffelees is small and black and can perform feats of magic that no other Cat can do. Mr. Mistoffelees performs his dance, restores the lights and brings back Old Deuteronomy, earning praise from all the Cats. The Jellicle choice can now be made.

After Old Deuteronomy sits down, Grizabella returns to the junkyard and he allows her to address the gathering. Her faded appearance and lonely disposition have little effect on her song. With acceptance and encouragement from Jemima and Victoria, her appeal succeeds and she is chosen to be the one to go to the Heaviside Layer and be reborn to a new Jellicle life. A large tire rises from the piles of junk, carrying Grizabella and Old Deuteronomy partway toward the sky; he then steps off so she can finish the journey on her own. Old Deuteronomy gives his closing speech to the human audience and the show comes to a close.

Musical numbers

Act I
  • "Prologue: Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats" – The Company
  • "The Naming of Cats" – The Company
  • "The Invitation to the Jellicle Ball" – Victoria, Carbucketty, Munkustrap
  • "The Old Gumbie Cat" – Jennyanydots, Munkustrap, Bombalurina, Jellylorum, Demeter
  • "The Rum Tum Tugger" – Rum Tum Tugger and Company
  • "Grizabella: The Glamour Cat" – Grizabella, Demeter, Bombalurina
  • "Bustopher Jones: The Cat About Town" – Bustopher, Jennyanydots, Jellylorum, Bombalurina
  • "Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer" – Mungojerrie, Rumpleteazer
  • "Old Deuteronomy" – Munkustrap, Rum Tum Tugger, George and Old Deuteronomy
  • "The Awful Battle of The Pekes and the Pollicles" – Munkustrap, Rumpus Cat and Company
  • "The Song of the Jellicles" – The Company
  • "Grizabella: The Glamour Cat" (Reprise) – Grizabella
  • "Memory (Prelude)" – Grizabella
Act II
  • "The Moments Of Happiness" – Old Deuteronomy, Jemima
  • "Gus: The Theatre Cat" – Asparagus, Jellylorum
  • "Growltiger's Last Stand" – Asparagus as Growltiger, Jellylorum as Griddlebone, and Company
  • "Gus: The Theatre Cat" (Reprise) – Asparagus
  • "Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat" – Skimbleshanks and Company
  • "Macavity: The Mystery Cat" – Demeter, Bombalurina
  • "Mr. Mistoffelees" – Rum Tum Tugger and Company
  • "Jellicle Choice"/"Daylight" – Munkustrap and Jemima
  • "Memory" – Grizabella, Jemima
  • "The Journey to the Heaviside Layer" – The Company
  • "Finale: The Ad-Dressing of Cats" – Old Deuteronomy and Company