Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, a messy bitch who lives for drama, spent his Friday evening doing live commentary on the 1998 filmed version of a stage performance of Cats. (Webber’s cat Mika was run over by a car this week and, as per “Page Six,” he dedicated his commentary to her memory. Okay. Sure.) Much of the commentary was as you’d expect: tidbits about T.S. Eliot and Ken Page and the mechanics of filming a stage musical with the technology of 20 years ago. But a really high point came during the“Bustopher Jones” scene, where Webber alluded to another version of the number he very much disliked. (I’d say he let the cat out of the bag, but I won’t.)
Bustopher Jones, in case you’re not familiar with the fever dream that is Cats, is a gent of a cat who roamed around Saint James’s square wearing, famously, white spats. “In the whole of St. James’s the smartest of names is the name of this Brummell of cats,” the song goes. “And we’re all of us proud to be nodded or bowed to by Bustopher Jones in white spats!” During the livestream, Webber said, “watching this and thinking this is much closer to what I wrote than other productions,” adding, “without interruption as I wrote it. Do not be beguiled by other versions. Other versions with unfunny interpolations which I begged to be cut out.”
This, well, sounds a lot like the 2019 Cats movie, made with digital fur technology, that flopped so hard it was almost good. In the film, Bustopher is played by James Corden and the portrayal of Bustopher essentially reduced the character to a running series of jokes about his size and his food consumption. The original Bustopher was a satirization of a man named H.P. Chadwyck-Healey, a posh man Webber says he met as a child who “bustled around Saint James from club to club.” “He certainly didn’t hang around on a seesaw,” he added. Hmm. “I cannot tell you how absolutely un-Eliot it all was.”
“This song is about wit not coarse jokes,” Webber said. “It’s also about taking the song at the right speed.” In reference to the changes, Webber added that he “did manage to get the worst of them removed.” Which makes me wonder, desperately, what other horrors the 2019 Cats was supposed to contain. ALW, please, get in touch. I’m all ears.