I hate musicals.
I hate the super-candied-Lea-Michele voices of ingénues as they embark on some ridiculous journey for puppy love.
I hate the boring sex jokes.
I even hate the children who perform because it’s guaranteed applause.
I did love “Rent,” as any artsy teenager, and even suffered through “Aida” because it involved Adam Pascal in another lead with an interracial relationship. While I was so excited to watch “Marnie” at the Metropolitan Opera House last year, I did get anxious five minutes into it, thinking because they were singing in English, “Damn it. It’s Broadway.” But I wound up loving “Marnie” because the spectacular “Mad Men” set design and aesthetic inspired me to buy a boiled-wool car coat from J. Crew. Dragging my dutiful, somewhat sullen husband to see “Cats” on Christmas Day, I went in prepared to be gagging soon after the previews, but alas, my seething hatred for all things corny actually turned what has been described as “the worst thing to happen to cats since dogs” into a fun, holiday experience and some newfound appreciation for an art that I had cast aside years ago.
The Andrew Lloyd Webber classic that enjoyed one of the longest runs on Broadway, was brought to cinematic life by Tom Hooper in a film that has received near-universal negative reviews. But that vitriol, that overarching detestation of “Cats,” is what made me want to see it. So many of my favorite films from the ‘90s involved odd conceptual themes, panned by the critics, only to reach cult status: “Death Becomes Her” is the movie I most remember as being hated by the critics. After I cried that no one liked it, my father, in the most dad-like way, assured me that “Those people hated ‘Wayne’s World,’ but the audience loved it!” And thus was born my need to love movies that were haughtily put down by the critics.
Throughout the movie, my husband continually poked me in the arm to express his displeasure with the anthropomorphic cast singing about rebirth (and since the movie started at 12:40 p.m. and the bar at Island 16 opened at 12:30 p.m., he had to endure this “happy wife, happy life” moment sober), but I was lost in the magic of the CGI and the overall message of having to perform your best artistic act to gain a second chance at life. And the movie’s ability to always take itself seriously, despite being a PG-rated film about cats, was awe-inspiring. The most famous song of the musical, Grizabella’s “Memories,” was performed by Jennifer Hudson and proved why “Cats” was such a powerhouse, despite investors’ initial reticence.
The nexus of “Cats” is a string of works by T.S. Eliot, which, of course, as an English literature major, told me I had to pay attention to it no matter what, but the music gave hints of the ‘80s glamour to come (“Cats” debuted in 1981). The cast, which had me at Idris Elba, had so many famous names it was bound to be lark. But that was the magic of “Cats”—it was like watching all the other theater kids from high school get together and have fun to make the most ridiculous of plotlines come to life. The takeaway from “Cats” is to let yourself enjoy the magic of cinema, the abilities of artists, and to be your own critic.