Grizabella, the Glamour Cat is a principal character in the musical Cats, who sings the hit song Memory. She is described to be an ex-member of the Jellice Tribe, formally glamours, but now exiled and disgraced. Part of the show's plot revolves around her plight and ultimate forgiveness by the tribe.
|“||Proud, Hurt, Indomitable||”|
Grizabella's personality is characterized by regret, rejection, and loneliness. She is portrayed as an older cat, although she may not be as old as her appearance implies. She usually moves slowly and carefully, suggesting stiffness or an injury. Grizabella is despised by the Jellicle cats, for reasons unspecified. She is a sad, lonely cat, dreaming of the days where she was young, beautiful and adored, as the song describes.
The character is implied to have been a prostitute; the area of Tottenham Court Road, where Grizabella is stated to be seen regularly, was strongly associate with prostitutes, and the imagery of the once beautiful star now residing with those shunned by society became a central theme for the character and the musical as a whole. Grizabella sings about herself:
Remark the Cat who hesitates towards you
In the light of the door which opens on her like a grin
You see the corner of her coat is torn and stained with sand
And you see the corner of her eye twist like a crooked pinThese lines are lifted from "Rhapsody on a Windy Night" (which also provided inspiration for the lyrics of "Memory), in which the woman being described is a prostitute waiting at the door of a brothel.
The name Grizabella is derived from "grizzle" which means either "grey" or "dishevelled", and "bella" which means "beautiful". Hence "Grizabella"; "The grey beauty" or "the dishevelled beauty".
|“||Strong, experienced singer/actress with high belt (to D flat), sings "Memory". The one time star among cats has seen better times. She now lives in the gutter and is despised by the other cats. She is vulnerable, but she is also a survivor.||”|
Grizabella first appears as the Cats are getting carried away with Rum Tum Tugger's antics. She immediately kills the mood. Most of the Jellicle cats scratch and claw at Grizabella. The kittens pity her and try to touch and accept her but the elders pull them away. Bombalurina and Demeter sing "Grizabella the Glamour Cat" to explain her story to the confused younger kittens.
Grizabella desperately wants to be accepted back into the tribe - she hides in the shadows and watches the Jellicle Ball. At the end of the Ball, she takes the empty stage and copies some of the dance moves and sings the first verse of "Memory". She senses someone reaching out to her but she is still too proud and independent, and walks off. It is only when the night is nearly over that she is desperate enough to appeal to the tribe one last time and sings "Memory" in full.
Later, Grizabella appears just before Old Deuteronomy will decide who will go to the Heaviside Layer. As she sings the full version/reprise of "Memory", she collapses. Jemima picks up where she left off and helps Grizabella finish her song. Victoria then reaches out to touch her. The remaining Jellicle cats finally touch her and accept her back into the tribe.
Grizabella is then chosen by Old Deuteronomy to be reborn, and "come back to a different Jellicle life", and ascends up to the Heaviside Layer.
In the Original London Production, Dame Judi Dench was cast to play Grizabella and Jennyanydots, doubling characters much as the actor who plays Asparagus also plays Bustopher Jones, without an implied link between the roles. However she was injured in rehearsal, and at the last minute Elaine Paige was cast as her replacement.
Grizabella wears a ragged and worn out fur coat, covering the remains of a black sequinned dress. She wears high-heeled shoes and stockings over her unitard, but one stocking has fallen around her ankle. Her wig is long and curly, the only wig in the show to be made of human hair rather than yak hair.
The 2014 London Palladium revival cast Nicole Scherzinger in the role, famous for her glamorous style, and Grizabella's costume was redesigned in keeping with Nicole's "Pussycat Doll" look. She was given long, straight hair, a corset and thigh-high boots, in a tan and black colour scheme. Her coat was more fitted, with short ragged sleeves and a more defined waist. It is also cut away at the front, revealing more of the tight-fitting outfit underneath. Her makeup was also made much less prominently "cat" and more glamorous, with no "age" lines, but a scar on her forehead. The inference is that she has had a head injury causing her downfall, but she is not particularly old.
At the beginning of the show, the actress playing Grizabella is usually in the ensemble, sometimes referred to as "Baby/Young Grizabella". She has an unremarkable costume of greys and browns, sometimes with a black velvet ribbon around her neck. The unitard and simple makeup form the base of her featured costume, with heavy black lines added to the makeup, and dress and coat over the unitard.
Baby Griz is designed specifically to not stand out from the other cats. In an interview, Prisca Demarez describes her feelings about her chorus identity:
Marie Berson: I, for one, would be very curious to hear more about the cat you play at first with the Jellicles before Grizabella's entrance! Does she have a name? A role?
Prisca: It's such a delight to perform the opening number with the whole cast! That moment is very important to me. Of course she has a name! Her name is Baby Griz, but I call her Grizzy Baby. She has the same colours as Grizabella on her face. She's as pure as Victoria and doesn't know life's sorrows yet. She's a kitten. I think she rounds everything off. She embodies the beginning of life, in a family, before the choices and difficulties arise.
I'm often asked why Grizabella doesn't come back young and beautiful at the end. I think we actually see her at the start, as Grizzy Baby, like a new life, a blank page to be filled in. It's what Grizabella was when she was little. It's in that form that she'll come back from the Heavyside Layer - as a kitten.
She allows me to have a past with the group, a feeling of having danced with them before I couldn't do it anymore. And she's so joyful and light before she carries the weight of Grizabella's sorrow.
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