'Cats' Musical Wiki
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Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats is a collection of whimsical poems by T S Eliot about feline psychology and sociology. It is the basis for the musical Cats. Most of the songs from the musical can be found in their entirety in the book, with slight changes in tense and pronoun to suit the staging.

Background

The poems were written by Eliot in letters to his godchildren from around 1932 to 1938, and the collection then published by Faber and Faber on 5 October 1939.[1] Eliot's widow, Valerie, later told Andrew Lloyd Webber that Eliot had written all of the poems to popular tunes from his time, though she did not reveal what those tunes were.[2]

Regarding the book's title, "Old Possum" refers to Eliot himself and was a nickname given to him by fellow poet Ezra Pound. A "Practical Cat" is a type of Cat according to Eliot, who in 1934 wrote to a friend:[3]

So far in my experience there are cheifly [sic] 4 kinds of Cat the Old Gumbie Cat the Practical Cat the Porpentine Cat and the Big Bravo Cat; I suspect that yours is a Bravo Cat by the looks of things.
— T S Eliot

Among the poems, Jennyanydots is said to be a Gumbie Cat while Growltiger is a Bravo Cat. According to Eliot though, "Most cats are practical, which is why we have chosen this title."[4]

Poems

Adaptations

While Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats is by far the most famous adaptation of Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, other composers have also adapted the poems to music. Most notably:

  • Alan Rawsthorne musicalised six of the poems for a speaker and orchestra titled Practical Cats. They were recorded in 1954 with actor Robert Donat as the speaker.

Editions

The poems have been published in many languages with various illustrators. English-language editions include:

Audiobook

T.S. Eliot Reads Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats is an audiobook that was released by Caedmon Records in 1957. It uses recordings made from readings given by Eliot in London in 1955.

Gallery

Trivia

  • The only poem not used in the musical is "Cat Morgan Introduces Himself". Lloyd Webber had written a song for this poem but it was dropped during initial development. Lloyd Webber performed the song at the show's 6,138th Broadway performance, when Cats broke the record to become the longest-running Broadway show.[5]
  • Almost all of the cat names mentioned in the book have been used in a replica production. Of the more obscure ones, "Peter" was the name of the ensemble identity of Gus in the Broadway revival; "Jonathan" was a swing character in the World Tour, "Augustus" was a swing character in South Korea, "Grumbuskin" was an ensemble character in China, "Gilbert" is an ensemble character in Japan.

References

  1. T. S. Eliot's Autobiographical Cats, Henry Hart. 2012
  2. @OfficialALW: "She confided in me once that Eliot wrote all of the Cat poems to tunes of the day that were big hits." Twitter, 10 May 2020.
  3. T S Eliot's Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, The British Library
  4. The Poems of T. S. Eliot Volume II: Practical Cats and Further Verses. Faber & Faber, 17 November 2015. Page 44.
  5. Cats Breaks Broadway Record, Playbill. June 20, 1997.
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