'Cats' Musical Wiki
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"The Old Gumbie Cat" is the first in a succession of musical numbers introducing individual characters - in this case, Jennyanydots. Her quiet daytimes spent sitting around is narrated by Munkustrap, juxtaposed with her busy nightlife as described by Bombalurina, Demeter and Jellylorum (aka the Gumbie Trio).

The number features an elaborate tap dance routine, and sees the other characters dressing up as mice and beetles/cockroaches to play along with telling Jennyanydots' story.

Context

After Munkustrap has explained that tonight is the night of the Jellicle Choice, he begins introducing a Gumbie Cat he has in mind: Jennyanydots. Mistoffelees uses his magic to open the car boot and out rolls Jenny in her huge house coat. Some of the kittens dress in mouse masks to sit and learn needlework from her.

Before the dance break for the "Beetles' Tattoo", the trio - usually Bombalurina, Demeter and Jellylorum - remove Jenny's coat, gloves and slippers, revealing her fringed tap outfit. A much livelier Jenny then takes the lead in an elaborate tap dance routine. The number ends with the tribe saluting Jenny ("For she's a jolly good fellow!"), who in turn thanks them ("Thank you my dears!").

History

The lyrics for the song are taken from the T S Eliot poem of the same name from Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats (1939). The term "Old Gumbie Cat" was made up by Eliot for a type of cat. In a letter to a friend, he wrote:

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.
— Eliot, 4 November 1934[1]

In the London production, the song was originally narrated by Quaxo (Mistoffelees' alternate identity). A large chunk of the song was cut when the show transferred to Broadway, and Quaxo's lines were given to Munkustrap. Since the 2003 UK tour, many productions have had the Gumbie trio sing Munkustrap's second verse with him.

Beetles' Tattoo

The feature tap dance has been altered a number of times over the years. In the original London production, after Jenny has led the Beetles' Tattoo in a tap routine, she is challenged to a tap dance-off by Quaxo (Mistoffelees), featuring solo tap choreography by Lindsay Dolan. The London tap choreography was simplified and shortened in the mid-1990s, with remarkably basic tap required of the ensemble. Most of the tap sequence was cut in the 1998 film. According to Mark John Richardson, Louie Spence as Mistoffelees (and Mark as his understudy) were the last in London to perform the tap-off (1998–99). In European productions, especially those based on the original Vienna production, the tap-off was between Jenny and the lead Beetle/Cockroach. In Vienna this was a separate character named Quaxo; in productions that followed it (where size of the cast was reduced), the 'Quaxo' part was played by other characters, and it was billed as an alternative feature character like 'Rumpus cat' or 'Genghis' (e.g., 'Pouncival/Quaxo'). In the Amsterdam production the part was usually played by Mungojerrie or Pouncival; in Paris it was played by Jean-Marc Genet in both seasons, though he was Pouncival in 1989 and Skimbleshanks in 1990; in Zurich 1991 and the subsequent European tour the part was played by Rumpleteazer or Jemima. The other major European tradition, the Hamburg production and its descendants, did not include the tap-off.


The 2014 Palladium production saw re-written music for the tap sequence and choreography by Bill Deamer, which is technically far more impressive but does not convey a story about naughty cockroaches or feature anything "Cats" inspired.

The Beetles' Tattoo section was removed in the 2016 Broadway revival, replaced by the cats tap dancing wearing costumes of hubcaps and "cleaning" the stage under Jenny's direction, while a giant clock counted down the time before the family wakes up. The music was also updated with a new dance arrangement by John Clancy.

Music

"The Old Gumbie Cat" opens with the trumpet fanfare, the first we hear of this recurring theme. It serves to transition the mood from the hushed chanting of "The Naming of Cats" and Munkustrap's expository verses to this upbeat song. The music is in a traditional dance-hall style, complete with a tap breakdown.[2]

Munkustrap's verses are smooth and gentle ("legato"), matching Jenny's lackadaisical daytime routine. They contrast with the lively refrains ("sprightly") by the Gumbie Trio who recount Jenny's busy nightlife in a cheery, tight, Andrews Sisters-style three-part harmony. Jenny herself occasionally interjects.[2] The song is set in the time signature of 4/4 with a tempo of 104 beats per minute. Munkustrap's verses are composed in the G major key, while the Trio's refrains and the tap section are in the C minor key.[3]

Key change from Munkustrap's verse to the Trio's refrain

After the song ends, the orchestra strikes up the opening verse again, only to be interrupted suddenly by the first notes of "The Rum Tum Tugger".[2]

Lyrics

Munkustrap:
I have a Gumbie Cat in mind, her name is Jennyanydots.
Her coat is of the tabby kind with tiger stripes and leopard spots.
All day she sits beneath the stairs or on the steps or on the mat:
She sits and sits and sits and sits - and that's what makes a Gumbie Cat,
That's what makes a Gumbie Cat.

Trio:
But when the day's hustle and bustle is done
Then the Gumbie Cat's work is but hardly begun.
And when all the family's in bed and asleep,
She tucks up her skirts to the basement to creep.
She is deeply concerned with the ways of the mice -

Jenny:
Their behaviour's not good and their manners not nice.

Trio:
So when she has got them lined up on the matting,
She teaches them -

Jenny:
Music, crocheting and tatting.

Munkustrap:
I have a Gumbie Cat in mind, her name is Jennyanydots.
The curtain cord she likes to wind, and tie it into sailor-knots.
She sits upon the window-sill, or anything that's smooth and flat:
She sits and sits and sits and sits - and that's what makes a Gumbie Cat.
That's what makes a Gumbie Cat!

Trio:
But when the day's hustle and bustle is done,
Then the Gumbie Cat's work is but hardly begun.
She thinks that the cockroaches -

Jenny:
Just need employment

Trio:
To prevent them from -

Jenny:
Idle and wanton destroyment

Trio:
So she's formed, from that lot of disorderly louts,
A troop of well-disciplined helpful boy scouts,

Jenny:
With a purpose in life and a good deed to do -

Trio:
And she's even created a Beetles' Tattoo!

(Tap break)

Ensemble:
For she's a jolly good fellow!

Jenny:
Thank you my dears!

Original London Version

Quaxo:
I have a Gumbie Cat in mind, her name is Jennyanydots.
Her coat is of the tabby kind with tiger stripes and leopard spots.
All day she sits upon the stair or on the step or on the mat:
She sits and sits and sits and sits - and that's what makes a Gumbie Cat,
That's what makes a Gumbie Cat.

Trio:
But when the day's hustle and bustle is done
Then the Gumbie Cat's work is but hardly begun.
And when all the family's in bed and asleep,
She tucks up her skirts to the basement to creep.
She is deeply concerned with the ways of the mice -

Jenny:
Their behaviour's not good and their manners not nice.

Trio:
So when she has got them lined up on the matting,
She teaches them -

Jenny:
Music, crocheting and tatting.

Quaxo:
I have a Gumbie Cat in mind, her name is Jennyanydots.
Her equal would be hard to find, she likes the warm and sunny spots.
All day she sits beside the hearth or on the bed or on my hat:
She sits and sits and sits and sits - and that's what makes a Gumbie Cat,
That's what makes a Gumbie Cat.

Trio:
But when the day's hustle and bustle is done,
Then the Gumbie Cat's work is but hardly begun.
As she finds that the mice will not ever keep quiet,
She is sure it is due to -

Jenny:
Irregular diet!

Trio:
And believing that -

Jenny:
Nothing is done without trying!

Trio:
She sets right to work with her baking and frying.
She makes them a mouse-cake of bread and dried peas -

Jenny:
And a beautiful fry of lean bacon and cheese.

Quaxo:
I have a Gumbie Cat in mind, her name is -

Trio:
Jennyanydots.

Quaxo:
The curtain cord she likes to wind, and tie it into sailor-knots.
She sits upon the window-sill, or anything that's smooth and flat:
She sits and sits and sits and sits - and that's what makes a Gumbie Cat.
That's what makes a Gumbie Cat!

Trio:
But when the day's hustle and bustle is done,
Then the Gumbie Cat's work is but hardly begun.
She thinks that the cockroaches -

Jenny:
Just need employment

Trio:
To prevent them from -

Jenny:
Idle and wanton destroyment

Trio:
So she's formed, from that lot of disorderly louts,
A troop of well-disciplined helpful boy scouts,

Jenny:
With a purpose in life and a good deed to do -

Trio:
And she's even created a Beetles' Tattoo!

(Tap break)

Ensemble:
So for Old Gumbie Cats let us now give three cheers -
On whom well-ordered households depend, it appears.
Three cheers, three cheers, three cheers.
For she's a jolly good fellow!

Jenny:
Thank you my dears!

Broadway Revival Version

Munkustrap:
I have a Gumbie Cat in mind, her name is Jennyanydots.
Her coat is of the tabby kind with tiger stripes and leopard spots.
All day she sits beneath the stairs or on the steps or on the mat:
She sits and sits and sits and sits - and that's what makes a Gumbie Cat,
That's what makes a Gumbie Cat.

Trio:
But when the day's hustle and bustle is done
Then the Gumbie Cat's work is but hardly begun.
And when all the family's in bed and asleep,
She tucks up her skirts to the basement to creep.
She is deeply concerned with the ways of the mice -

Jenny:
Their behaviour's not good and their manners not nice.

Trio:
So when she has got them lined up on the matting,
She teaches them -

Jenny:
Music, crocheting and tatting.

Munkustrap and Trio:
I have a Gumbie Cat in mind, her name is Jennyanydots.
The curtain cord she likes to wind, and tie it into sailor-knots.
She sits upon the window-sill, or anything that's smooth and flat:
She sits and sits and sits and sits - and that's what makes a Gumbie Cat.
That's what makes a Gumbie Cat!

Trio:
But when the day's hustle and bustle is done,
Then the Gumbie Cat's work is but hardly begun.
She finds that the mice will -

Jenny:
Never keep quiet

Trio:
She is sure it is due to -

Jenny:
Irregular diet!

Trio:
She thinks that the cockroaches
Just need employment
To prevent them from idle and wanton destroyment
Provided they each know the job they must do -
She also allows them their fun and games too!

(Tap break)

Trio:
When the day's hustle and bustle is done,
Then the Gumbie Cat's work is but hardly begun.

(Tap break)

Ensemble:
For she's a jolly good fellow!

Jenny:
Thank you my dears!

International Versions

Audio

Broadway Revival Version

Note: .ogg files cannot be played on iOS devices

Video

Gallery

References

  1. T S Eliot's Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, The British Library
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 The Megamusical, Indiana University Press (2006). Pages 147, 150, 156. ISBN 978-0-253-34793-0.
  3. Cats: Songs from the Musical, Hal Leonard (May 1, 1982). Page 23-28. ISBN 978-0881882001.
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