life ain’t always purrfect for an ASM.

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Elaine Paige as Grizabella in the 1998 Cats video.

Last night, I was given comp tickets to see CATS at The Jubilee in Edmonton. So, I called up a couple of buddies and we headed down to watch the human felines dancing and reminisce about how this show impacted us as kids. Actually, one of my friends had never seen it, so that was fun… watching a grown man take in the absurd wonder of this Andrew Lloyd Webber classic.

So, there I was, reliving my childhood, cats running and jete-ing up the aisles with blinking lights on headbands to resemble eyes, and 1980‘s synthesizers inviting us to the Jellicle Ball.

I suddenly realized half way through act one, as Rum Tum Tugger was pelvic thrusting his way into his 9th life, that Old Grizabella hadn’t made an appearance yet. The lead character (as most people think of her) had not yet come on stage. Just as that thought arrived, so did she. Out she came limping in all her sad grey glory, sang us a few lines, beautifully I might add, of the most famous CATS song Memory, and limped off.

We were introduced to the fat and sophisticated cat Bustopher Jones, The dynamic duo of MungoJerrie and Rumpleteazer. Then the company or should I say pride of cats bowed down and sang a song to show reverence to Old Deuteronomy, for he carries the story line we have been waiting to discover. You see, the Jellicles meet once a year on the night he makes the “jellicle choice” – rejoice!

What’s that?”  you ask. Well, i’ll tell you… later on… about the time when we figured it out. In the meantime, we haven’t seen hind nor hair of Grizabella for quite sometime and the Jellicle Ball is about to start?! The cats begin, sans Grizabella, to dance and dance and dance. Each of them displaying their magic cat layouts, and attitudes to, I presume, impress their old friend Deut. The Ball ends with a roaring flourish of awesome 80’s jazz moves,  and in walks, yeah you guessed it, Old Grizabella… “Where ya been girl?”  She tries a few dance moves but her old body just ain’t flexible like it used to be (I immedietely relate… ya gotta stretch everyday, Griz… too many cat naps ain’t gonna cut it) so she sings, another, but different, reprise of Memory. No dimensia for this archaic grimalkin.

INTERMISSION- My friends turn and begin sharing with me their favourite cat, the comedy chops of the calico, the beautiful extensions on the siamese, and the huge voice on the Grizabella. We each take a moment to acknowledge the oddness of tapping cats dressed as beetles, get a quick hot chocolate, try to piece together the story (at which we fail) and head back in for Act 2.

We watch as the human felines, one by one, begin to slink on stage. Some stop to clean their ears, while others cuddle the kitty next to them. Old Deut sings, “The moments of happiness, we had the experience but missed the meaning”

Well, he isn’t lying there.

“and approach to the meaning restores the experience”

Oh phew, well that’s a relief, but where the heck is Griz?

The cats sing a rousing chorus of Memory, and we meet Gus; the sweet and vulnerable theatre cat… who’s name in full is Aparagus. He takes us on an adventure where the cats perform a “Pirates of Penzance” type musical number so we learn of his time as a great actor cat. I turn to my friend, who like me, does not at all remember cats dressed up as a pirates as a child? Not gonna lie, this part really confused me…more… but onward!

We meet, Skimbleshanks, the charming and talented railway cat. I liked him. We watch as Macavity the mystery cat shows up and kidnaps Old Deut while two sexy kittens sing of him and his wicked feline felonies… which seems to turn these kitties on. Even in the cat world, were drawn to the bad boy. I’m sure Old Griz could teach these kittens a few things about tom cats, but alas, she’s nowhere to be found.

Suddenly, Old Deuteronomy arrives but he looks…different. “Hisss! Wait!” It’s crazy Macavity dressed up like him… let the choreographed cat fights begin! They do and ironically spooky Macavity gets scared away.

“But, what about Old Deut?” Don’t worry kids, Mr Mistoffelees, the magician cat has turned up, literally. He turns, in his black glittered catitard, 43 times through pirouettes à la seconde and Fouettés without putting his paw down. I wish Griz was here to see this for he has brought Old Deut back with magic… magic turning.

“He must wear sea-bands or take gravol. That was impressive” I think to myself.

With the return of Deuteronomy, it is time for the decision to be made. Which Jellicle cat will he choose to go to the Heaviside Layer? We now learn that this is where they go to begin a new life!! Got it now!

Here she comes, the chosen cat, limping on, OLD GRIZABELLA in her silver t-strap heels. She sings us a rousing rendition of Memory. She falls on her side during the musical interlude, lays there for 16 bars only to climb her way back up to belt out her big final notes. She was absent for most of the show, but when she was on, she was on!

So, why did I tell you the whole “story” of CATS when the title of this blog was, Life ain’t always purrfect for an ASM.  Well, because after the curtain call I began to read my program only to discover that the girl playing Grizabella was not only playing Grizabella but she was also The Assistant Company Manager, and THE ASSISTANT STAGE MANAGER!! At the same time! How is that humanly possible? How is that allowed? She’s backstage wearing her heatset on top of her second set of ears, quick changing her fellow cat-members, making sure their water and tuna flavoured powerbars are ready for them when they come off from a big dance, and every so often removing the headset to limp on stage and belt out a few big notes?! Unheard of. I turned to my friends and said, “Boy, they sure ask alot of there ASM’s these days” We laughed for a long time and were very tempted to wait at the stage door to congratulate this girl on her multi-tasking. Actors die to land the role where the characters talk about you more than you are present… where you’re off-stage time is 3/4 of the length of your onstage time, but the onstage time is full of grit and money notes. Those are the roles!! haha. Well, not for this poor pussycat.

“Stand by Cue 12. And Go… TOOOOOUCH MEEEEE!!!!”

Ridiculous, and more importantly, wrong.


7 Responses to "life ain’t always purrfect for an ASM."
  1. KJ says:

    As I sit here, trying to produce a musical on a shoestring budget, your post inspires me to think outside the box. I now think I should have the spotlight operator double up as my ever-needed assistant director, and, perhaps, do a soul-wrenching cameo in Act 2.

    Thank GOD you’re blogging more. Saved my life.


  2. hillbillycal says:

    I laughed, i cried … it was better than, oh no, um…

  3. Jeremy Crittenden says:

    Your description of Cats is better than Cats ever was!
    On the subject of that poor ASM, this is one of the reasons these non-equity tours are so shameful. Talented people being worked to the bone, paid less than their Equity represented colleagues with no guarantee of the protections that keep artists safe from abuse.

    They say it’s “broadway”, but there is no way in hell that Elaine Paige, Betty Buckley, Lea Solonga or Stephanie Block were asked to ASM in order to play the role of a lifetime.
    -Jeremy Crittenden. Proud member of Canadian Actors Equity since 2005!

  4. I remember being on stage in Toronto in 1985, old deut is found by Mistophoffelles, the red cape was pulled off along with the wig! Good laughs and memories of live theatre!

  5. Sylvia Hosie says:

    OMG this blog and everyone’s response to it has given me my daily laugh – thank-you (and great penmanship, SJ!!)

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