Scott Miller Wants You to Know Cats Isn’t as Bad as You Think | St. Louis Metro News | St. Louis

Scott Miller Wants You to Know Cats Isn't as Bad as You Think | St. Louis Metro News | St. Louis

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Humans prancing about in cat suits may sound absurd, but Scott Miller says the Broadway show (if not the movie) actually works.

Scott Miller, the founder and artistic director of St. Louis’ acclaimed New Line Theater, has been on a writing tear in recent years, publishing incisive books about various aspects of his beloved musical theater, from Stephen Sondheim to Grease. “There’s a growing mass market of people who love musicals, and I want to feed them the cool stuff that I’ve been thinking about all these years,” he explains. “I love sharing with people all the stuff that thrills me.”

But in Miller’s most recent book, the self-described “bad-ass culture warrior” offers a hot take that may be too spicy for even the most curious readers. Rescuing Cats: The Musical That’s Better Than You Think dares to argue that Andrew Lloyd Webber’s feline-focused extravaganza is actually good — heresy to all intelligent theatergoers and an even more daring argument after the 2019 film adaptation bombed.

Here’s how Miller managed to explain the inexplicable when we caught up with him late last month.

click to enlarge The new book from the "Bad Boy of Musical Theatre" offers his spiciest take yet. - STEVE TRUESDELL


The new book from the “Bad Boy of Musical Theatre” offers his spiciest take yet.

Cats is “better than you think”? Is that damning with the faintest of praise or do you actually like this show?

I love this show. When I was writing the description of the book for Amazon, I came up with what is really the point: If you love Cats, you will find more to love here; if you hate Cats, this might change your opinion. Whether you love it or hate it, my hope is that you read the book and come out thinking, “This is better than I thought it was.”

People complain about Cats not having any plot. But it does have a plot, in the same way that Hair has a plot. There’s a narrative arc. The biggest shock for me was that Cats is exactly parallel to Hair. Both start with a summoning of the tribe and spend the first half with the tribe introducing themselves and celebrating their tribe. In the second half there’s a huge decision that has to be made that leads to death for one of them. It’s musical theater as ritual, and humans need ritual.

Yet New Line, the theater you run, has never put it on. Why is that?

It’s such a show about dance. I really thought, “Does it have to be a show about dance?” But if you produced it without the dance, audiences might have a hard time with that. We do a fair amount of shows with a fair amount of choreography, but because of the kinds of show we do, our cast doesn’t have to look like Broadway actors — they just have to look like the characters. Cats, you really rely on high-quality dancers.

Could we ever see Cats in New Line’s future?

I have learned over the years, never say never. But I don’t think so. Even so … There are a few shows that people ask me about, and I say, “Oh my God no, we could never do that.” Six, eight, ten years later, I say, “You know, we could do it.” One of those shows is Anything Goes. I always said it was too lightweight. Then I wrote a history book, and realized Anything Goes is about making celebrities out of criminals and show business out of religion. The entire plot is about those two things. Then I was like, “It’s a New Line show.”

So are you surprised Cats the movie was such a bomb?

I had previously watched 10 to 15 minutes of the movie profoundly stoned, and I thought, “This is freaky and trippy and maybe this is a stoner movie.” When I sat down to write the book, I finally watched the whole movie. I was appalled. It was an abomination.

What made it so bad?

Cats is a serious show. The whole plot is about a damaged, broken woman who’s going to get redemption. The movie turned it into a gag fest.

Even people who don’t like Cats acknowledge the superiority of its hit song, “Memory.” What makes it such a banger?

Young writers say to me, “How do you know if a story will make a good musical?” For a long time I didn’t know what the answer was. The answer is, it has to be primarily an emotional story. That’s what musicals do. Music does emotion. The other thing is that it has to tell some truth. What “Memory” does is tell truths — about aging and memory and regret.

You have two cats, Hamilton and Macheath. Did your cats like Cats?

They are completely indifferent to the television. I was showing them parts of the video, and they could not be less interested. I got my copy of the book yesterday, and they also could not be less interested in that.

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