I like to see connections among things. Sometimes between stories. And somewhere between “there are only 7 basic stories in the world” and downright plagiarism, there lie things like this, where odd and interesting things make two stories a little more similar than what may first meet the eye. And so, a Mad Libs summary of the musicals A Chorus Line and Cats.
In this musical theatre piece, a variety of (professional dancers / cats) appears together. It’s revealed that there is a very limited opportunity for selection to achieve a special status (getting a job in a Broadway chorus line / going to the Heaviside Layer). The selection will be announced later that same day by an experienced male leadership figure (Zack / Old Deuteronomy) who himself nevertheless is only a relatively minor character in the piece.
The competition, though, becomes less of a focus of the piece, mainly an excuse to present a review-like montage in which we get to peer past our usual images of these characters to see what we don’t usually see. We come to know (the dancers’ / the cats’) stories behind and beyond (their performance resumes / what they usually show the human world), including at times their (real / Jellicle) names as opposed to their (stage / everyday) names.
The characters’ backstories are told mainly through directly narrated, tell-don’t-show verbal storytelling, though dance plays a central role in non-verbally enhancing the tales. Dance is, in fact, explicitly mentioned as important to these characters (the auditioners are dancers / the Jellicles have Terpsichorean powers they especially display at the Jellicle Ball). The characters have lots of varied personalities and histories, so that there’s a little something for everyone in the audience to appreciate and relate to.
If there is a main through-line character, it’s a female who used to be much more glamorous but has fallen on harder times (Cassie / Grizabella the Glamour Cat). She gets a powerful song late in the show in which she reflects on the past with hope of new happiness in her future (Music and the Mirror / Memory). In the end, she will be selected for the rare opportunity, but the piece then ends with everyone in a positive mood, transcending the competition.
The show went on to break the record for Broadway’s longest running musical and Broadway’s longest running show.