"Gus: The Theatre Cat" is the second musical number in Act 2. It sees Jellylorum introduce Gus, the elderly and frail "Theatre Cat". Gus interrupts Jellylorum as she tells his story, before spinning off into a reverie, which then leads to the dream sequence "Growltiger's Last Stand".
Old Gus has been sitting quietly with Jellylorum throughout "The Moments of Happiness". A seat is brought centre stage for him, though he is initially reluctant to take it. Jellylorum then encourages Gus to speak but when he refuses, she goes ahead and introduces him instead. As the song progresses, Gus becomes more animated and has more to say for himself. In typical grumpy old man style, he doesn't care if he cuts off Jellylorum or upsets the kittens with his careless remarks.
After his final refrain of "Fireforefiddle", Gus takes a bow and is often startled and overwhelmed by the audience's applause. This encourages him to continue his reminiscing, despite Jellylorum's attempts to lead him offstage. This is usually played up for comedic effect, with false stops in which Gus is led away as the other cats prepare for the next number, only for him to return to centre stage as he recalls yet another role that he played.
The scene eventually fades away to Gus' echoes that he could play Growltiger again, transitioning seamlessly to his Growltiger reverie.
Irving - Henry Irving, renown stage actor and theatre manager.
Tree - Herbert Beerbohm Tree, renown actor, theatre manager, and founder of RADA.
Success on the Halls - Music Halls provided mixed entertainment for all classes in the Victorian era. The performance of "Growltiger's Last Stand" is styled as a Music Hall performance.
Little Nell - the main character in Charles Dickens' The Old Curiosity Shop. Gus is presumably referring to playing a character in a stage adaptation of the novel.
Dick Whittington - the story of Dick Whittington and His Cat is a very traditional subject for a christmas Pantomime. Modern adaptations often cast The Cat in a familiar black and white costume.
East Lynne - a melodrama popular in the mid-late 19th century
Fiend of the Fell - a reference to a legendary creature, in the lines of the Hound of the Baskervilles legend. The Fell refers to barren, mountainous terrains, in this context probably the north of England, the Pennines and lake district.
"Gus: The Theatre Cat" is a pastiche of old-fashioned music hall numbers, reflecting Gus' nostalgia for a heyday gone by. The melody is simple and gentle, composed in the key of D major and set to a 3/8 meter, with a tempo of 104 beats per minute. Jellylorum's vocals span from G#3 to E5, and Gus' from A3 to D5.
Gus is the cat at the theatre door
His name, as I ought to have told you before
Is really Asparagus, but that's such a fuss to pronounce
That we usually call him just Gus
His coat's very shabby, he's thin as a rake
And he suffers from palsy that makes his paw shake
Yet he was in his youth quite the smartest of cats
But no longer a terror to mice or to rats
For he isn't the cat that he was in his prime
Though his name was quite famous, he says, in his time
And whenever he joins his friends at their club
Which takes place at the back of the neighbouring pub
He loves to regale them, if someone else pays
With anecdotes drawn from his palmiest days
For he once was a star of the highest degree
He has acted with Irving, he's acted with Tree
And he likes to relate his success on the halls
Where the gallery once gave him seven cat calls
But his grandest creation as he loves to tell
Was Firefrorefiddle, the fiend of the fell
I have played in my time every possible part
And I used to know seventy speeches by heart
I'd extemporize back chat, I knew how to gag
And I knew how to let the cat out of the bag
I knew how to act with my back and my tail
With an hour of rehearsal, I never could fail
I'd a voice that would soften the hardest of hearts
Whether I took the lead or in character parts
I have sat by the bedside of poor little Nell
When the curfew was rung then I swung on the bell
In the pantomime season, I never fell flat
And I once understudied Dick Whittington's cat
But my grandest creation, as history will tell
Was Firefrorefiddle, the fiend of the fell
Then, if someone will give him a toothful of gin
He will tell how he once played a part in East Lynne
At a Shakespeare performance he once walked on pat
When some actor suggested the need for a cat
And I say now these kittens, they do not get trained
As we did in the days when Victoria reigned
They never get drilled in a regular troupe
And they think they are smart just to jump through a hoop
And he says as he scratches himself with his claws
Well the theatre is certainly not what it was
These modern productions are all very well
But there's nothing to equal from what I hear tell
That moment of mystery when I made history
As Firefrorefiddle, the fiend of the fell
- I once crossed the stage on a telegraph wire
To rescue a child when a house was on fire
And I think that I still can much better than most
Produce blood curdling noises to bring on the ghost
And I once played Growltiger could do it again
Could do it again, could do it again