It didn’t take long for the internet to have some thoughts about the Cats trailer.
Shortly after the clip’s release on Thursday, July 18, social media exploded with reactions, with many expressing surprise, horror, and, most of all, confusion about what they just watched. The trailer offered a glimpse into Tom Hooper’s film adaptation of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, unveiling the “digital fur technology” used on Taylor Swift, Jennifer Hudson, Idris Elba and other stars in order to transform them from humans to felines. The CGI is indeed a departure from the stage version, which relies heavily on costumes and makeup to create the illusion of singing and dancing cats, but it seems as though computerized fur is merely the beginning of the internet’s collective question mark hovering over the upcoming film.
But while some might be quick to label the Cats trailer as “nightmare fuel,” it’s worth noting that the original stage version (despite its lack of CGI) is truly just as weird, just as unnerving, and just as bizarre as its upcoming film companion — which is exactly what makes it great, depending upon who you ask. Interestingly enough, Cats has been a polarizing musical within the theater community for years, so the recent divide on Twitter is nothing new.
However, if your first exposure to Cats is the two-and-a-half minute clip on YouTube, it’s entirely fair to have some questions. With the help of two performers from the 2016 Broadway revival, allow me to take you into the magical world of Cats — because Jellicles can and Jellicles do.
What is Cats about?
Based on T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical follows a group of cats called Jellicles, all with distinctly unique personalities. While each cat gets their chance to shine in the form of musical numbers, the story heavily focuses on Grizabella (Jennifer Hudson in the film), who yearns for her youthful days and hopes to be reborn.
That said, Cats is more than just cats. “Within the virtuosity, this musical is actually much more rooted in spirituality and community than you think,” Shonica Gooden, who played Rumpleteazer in the 2016 Broadway revival of Cats tells Teen Vogue. “There is the power of love, acceptance, and forgiveness at the core of this story. There is the power of unity and pride in one’s ‘tribe’ and where they come from. There is the power of wisdom and second chances.”
Georgina Pazcoguin, AKA “The Rogue Ballerina,” agrees. “If you really dive into the themes, Cats represents far more than feline hubris,” Pazcoguin, who portrayed Victoria in the 2016 Broadway production, explains. “It’s underscores themes of feminism and misogyny in its character descriptions, and at its climax, demonstrates the power of redemption from one small act of kindness.”
There are so many cats! How will I keep track?
While there are a lot of cats in Cats (over two dozen named felines!), here are a few of the main kitties you’ll want to keep an eye out for in the upcoming film:
Bombalurina: A flirtatious and outgoing cat. She has a bit of a mean streak, but deep down she has a good heart. (Taylor Swift)
Demeter: She’s best friends with Bombalurina; the two are often seen together in the stage version. She’s more withdrawn than her feline counterpart, and is often seen as the kind one of the pair. (Daniela Norman)
Macavity: Macavity is essentially the villain in Cats. A notorious criminal, he is also known as “The Napoleon of Crime.” (Idris Elba)
Jennyanydots: As a sleepy cat by day, and a busy cat by night, there's a lot more to Jennyanydots than meets the eye. (Rebel Wilson)
Old Deuteronomy: Old Deuteronomy is the leader of the Jellicle tribe, and is responsible for choosing which cat will ascend to the Heaviside Layer in order to be reborn. (Dame Judi Dench)
Rum Tum Tugger: A very rebellious and flirtatious cat, often portrayed as a music super-star. (Jason Derulo)
How long was Cats on Broadway?
Cats once held the record for the longest-running show on both Broadway and the West End. It made its official Broadway debut in 1982 and won seven Tony Awards before closing 18 years later in 2000.
The 2016 Broadway revival ran for a little over a year, and featured new choreography from Hamilton’s Andy Blankenbuehler. And make no mistake; taking on the role of a cat several times a week is no easy feat. “The show is so challenging vocally, physically, and spiritually. It truly is a test of your endurance, skill, and passion,” Gooden recalls, describing Cats as “the Olympics of Broadway shows.”
OK but honestly can we talk about the CGI? Why not do makeup?
For what it’s worth, the traditional Cats makeup isn’t exactly a walk in the park. Both Gooden and Pazcoguin tell Teen Vogue that, during their Broadway run, the actors were tasked with applying their own feline makeup — a process that took an inordinate amount of time. “We all used to arrive at the theatre two hours before the show just to paint on our cat faces and give them time to settle and dry,” Gooden remembers, joking that she’s jealous of the film actors who don't have to paint their own cat features. “Each and every cat face is designed specifically to each cat in the show,” she adds. “Some are more intricate than others, but all require extra time to paint on, while [also] making sure you had time to warm up your body and voice before curtain up.”
For Pazcoguin, that extra effort was part of the artistic process. “It was almost a rite of passage learning how to bring your cat to life through the application of the individual features, and the daily transformation really helped me get into me character.”
I’m almost sold, but I’m not quite there. Help!
Truthfully, it’s OK to have some questions or feel confused about Cats; the musical has a long documented history of instilling passionate feelings in its viewers, for better or worse. But it's hard to argue with the fact that Cats is undoubtedly impactful; just uttering the title alone will illicit some kind of visceral response in many people. At its core, Cats is much more than a collection of poems, and it's much more than a musical; it's a spectacle, an enigma, a cultural phenomenon that has obviously left its mark on both the theater and pop culture worlds.
Take it from a cat herself: “We see our human condition in these cats,” Pazcoguin concludes. “That’s why people fall in love [with it], hate it, think it’s confusing. Life is confusing. Being human is confusing.” And so, it would seem, is being a cat.
Want more from Teen Vogue? Check this out: Taylor Swift's Cats Role Is Literally Purrrfect for Her
Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue