I saw Cats this week. Believe it or don't, I had never seen it before. Long ago, in a previous life, I had tickets to see it, then something happened - I honestly can't remember but it was some kind of emergency and I had to go out of town. My ex-sister and brother-in-law used the tickets. They were good seats, too.
Here's the thing: I get it. I really do. Cats was completely original at the time. The costumes, the makeup, the operatic quality of the play, it was all so shiny and new. For a long time, musicals had consisted of dialogue, dialogue, song-and-dance, dialogue. Now it was singing, dancing, singing.
I also get that this play is based on a book of poems about cats. That darned T.S. Eliot. His wonderful and creative presentation of different kitty characters was possibly a harbinger of all those cute cat videos.
The problem as I watched it was that it almost has a storyline except that it doesn't. There's a big group of cats waiting for Old Deuteronomy to choose a cat to be reborn. That has the making of a plot. Who will he choose? Is there a danger of choosing the wrong cat? What if something prevents him from choosing? THAT'S a story.
Instead, we are introduced to all the cats in the poems. They give a little song and dance explanation of who they are, then they split, mostly. There's no indication that there's any cat other than Grizabella eligible to be reborn. And none of the cats seem to like her. What about Asparagus? He's old and got palsy (or perhaps "pawlsy"). Doesn't he deserve to climb the ladder?
It gets kind of exciting when Macavity shows up and kidnaps Old Deuteronomy, but I don't know why he kidnapped him, and he's found (or conjured up) pretty quickly by Mr. Mistoffelees, so the thrill dies before it even gets going.
By the end of the play, Grizabella has climbed the Stairway to Heaven, the cats are all doing their happy-crazy dance, and all is right in the cat world. It was okay, but I kept wondering, where were all the cats we'd been introduced to earlier? I liked the fat black cat with white spats, but he didn't even make the curtain call. What the hell, Andrew?
For those of you who love Cats, let me say that I loved the entertainment aspect of it all. The dancing was wonderful, the costumes and makeup well-done, the singing fine and good. At one point, I did voice my suspicions that Sir Webber wrote this musical while under the influence of something. I'm fairly sure I would think less about the plot and enjoy the antics more had I been under some influence. Alas, a single glass of cheap red wine did not do the trick.
The almost-but-not-quite plot did give me something to consider as a writer. When populating my stories, do not put the spotlight on characters that do not move the plot along. They might be fun or quirky or elicit some kind of response from the reader, but they are no less important than props. And props must all follow the law of Chekhov's gun.
Don't put them in the story if you're not going to use them.