Say what you will, but CATS was one of my first and favourite memories. It’s the musical that started it all for me – the one that lead me down this garden path to theatre. I always wanted to be Jennyanydots or Demeter, dancing around the stage in a fun little cat suit, but that opportunity has yet to emerge.
When they announced that this Andrew Lloyd Webber classic was coming back to Broadway after 16 years away, I was over the moon. Out of sheer nostalgia I pulled out my scratched up 2-disc cast album and listened to those songs all day. And all night. And the next day.
That was it.
It all came flooding back in a moment of happiness (see what I did there?); all the memories of my life before I knew about theatre – really knew. I was the little girl listening to the same four cast albums over and over because I didn’t know any other musicals, making up backstories in my mind because I didn’t have the libretto on hand. All I had was the music.
That’s how I came to musical theatre: I danced and I listened to cast albums. Specifically “CATS, Phantom of the Opera, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and Les Miserable” dotted my childhood and influenced my future in ways I didn’t understand at the time. I loved them, I memorized them, I lived them.
I have so many memories of putting Joseph on repeat and playing the Narrator in my living room. Long before I ever saw the stage production, I had this image of a prim and proper Mary Poppins-like character guiding the audience through a campy retelling of the bible story. It was my first taste of open armed, centre stage, belting kind of characters. I loved it. She’s still on my list of roles I’d like to play. To this day, I get tingles when I hear the opening notes of “Pharaoh’s Story”.
Or how about the time I tried to play every single character in Les Mis until I couldn’t keep them straight in my head. I would even sweep the kitchen floor just so I can do Eponine’s death scene – my mother loved that I was finally doing my chores. My favourite was playing the Thenardiers in Master of the House because I got to swear; also I discovered a love of character acting – being slightly outlandish and animated on stage was a lovely reprieve from that fake dance competition smile I normally had to wear.
I even had a ballet bar in my basement so I could keep practicing my feline développés. I think I was drawn to CATS because it was a combination of dance and music (familiar and new). I had so much fun crawling around my basement floor – I still do – creating new dances and playing the different cats how I believed they should be played. That was the best part: imagining and interpreting; like “make-believe” with an orchestra.
Listening to that music created a world of magic for me to play in. You know, it never mattered if I had the characters or the story exactly right. What mattered was that I was creating. Constantly and completely. It’s sort of like what I do now but on a larger scale. I get a much bigger playground with much less furniture to run into.
Even after all these years, listening to those four cast albums brought me back to the child-like wonder for theatre and performing that sparked my passion. And now, here I am; from one-woman shows in my kitchen to centre stage, I am eternally grateful for those few musicals.
Because of them, I have a tangible passion for musical theatre that stems from music and dance coming together. I can’t imagine theatre any other way – nor would I want to. I loved the days of imagination and play; I wouldn’t trade them for anything. And the music? Well, I may have grown up and listened to a lot more musicals but they will forever be in my heart.
To you, the Original Broadway Cast Recordings, I thank you.
I will always listen to you.