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Sex. Celebrity. Politics. With Teeth

I’m Going to Watch the Fuck Out of This Queer Ballroom Reimagining of ‘Cats’

The Andrew Lloyd Webber musical is now like, "Kitty cat, kitty cat, kitty cat, OW!"

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Photo: Monica Schipper/WireImage (Getty Images)

Because “Jellicles are and Jellicles do,” and “Jellicle cats are queen of the nights,” it was only a matter of time before some genius set about to reinterpret Andrew Lloyd Webber’s legendary lyrics with real queens of the night: queer ballroom dancers.

For those of you who don’t speak the musical language of Cats, let me translate. The iconic Broadway show, which won seven Tony Awards when it debuted and later gave way to the bizarre film version starring Taylor Swift, is set to be reimagined within the realm of queer ballroom culture, buoyed by a cast of people of color and a whole of host gender and sexual identities. As Jezebel alum Garrett Schlichte wrote, the 2019 film never lived up to its “horny” or “gay” potential. However, this adaptation looks about as gay as it gets, and lord knows I will be in line with a pair of cat ears on, meow-ing into the night.

Them reported on a casting call for the show posted on Broadway World last week. The show appears set to premiere at the as-of-yet unopened Ronald O. Perelman Performing Arts Centre in New York City, next to the World Trade Center (it’s the one that looks like a marble Rubix cube).

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“This production reimagines the musical CATS within the context of THE BALLROOM SCENE. Performers do not play literal cats; they play people living in New York City. This is a workshop that may lead to a potential production,” the posting reads. (Absolute icon behavior declaring that the show is not hoping to employ literal cats.) As brought to broader communities by HBO Max’s Legendary, ballroom is an underground LGBTQ+ scene popularized by young Black and Latinx drag queens in New York in the 1980s, in which queens compete in a dance-off called a “ball,” voguing their asses off and joining “houses,” each of which showcase a distinct status and style.

The posting also cites choreography consulting by Omari Wiles from the House of Mizrahi and Season 2 of Legendary, as well as gender consulting by Josephine Kearns, a theater artist specializing in transgender, queer, and intersex issues who is currently involved with the Breaking the Binary Theatre Festival.

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In describing the scope of the show and roles available for casting, the posting continues:

All ages are suggestions to capture the character’s essence and their relationship to the scene. Gender identities mentioned in the character descriptions are to describe the characters; many roles may have flexibility with gender including throughout the show. Ballroom was created as something that is for everyone. Although not every character is listed as such, it is important to this creative team that people of the global majority (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) are represented across this cast.

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In other words, queer it ALL. Old Deuteronomy, played by Judi Dench in the film, is listed as a “drag Queen/King/Elder” who is “highly respected” and the only “icon” at the competition (that is, a ballroom artist who has been competing in the scene for decades and received the designation as an honor). Grizabella, who was played by Jennifer Hudson, is described as a “trans woman” who is “currently unhoused and in bad shape, an outcast.” But don’t worry: She also wins the Grand Prize at the end of the show. And perhaps my favorite of the hypothetical lot is Rum Tum Tugger, once played by Jason Derulo (though I am still wondering why), who will be a “bisexual Freddie Mercury type,” a “curious cat,” and the winner of the category “Pretty Boy Realness.”

Whenever this delightful show premieres, you’ll find me curled up in the audience screaming and applauding Gay Cats. My one wish is that the director casts Leiomy Maldonado, queen of vogueing. Claws out for anyone who has a problem with it.