I went to opening night of Cats at the Nederlander Theatre for one reason: to look for furries. I was obsessed with the idea that Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1981 musical had somehow played a role in the development of the “fandom,” furry-speak for the community of muzzle-sporting individuals who congregate at conventions and online to be animals together. The extent to which that fantasy—an entire subculture, hatched whole from a famous Broadway musical!—came to dominate my waking hours, should give some sense of the sheer amount of time I spend looking at Twitter.
What even is Cats? No other show has less to do with reality. Structurally, the thing is a weird hybrid monstrosity. It’s less a musical than some kind of operatic feline dance-off pageant. Webber adapted most of the songs in it from nonsense verse T.S. Eliot published under the nom de fur Old Possum, but the showstopper, “Memory,” was pieced together from other Eliot poems. What better set piece could there be for a play-length fuzzing of the animal-human divide?
Turns out, furries don’t much care for Cats. Ironically, the thing that makes the show most appealing to “normies” is what turns furries off from it: the cats’ human faces.
“I don’t think [Cats] was very influential” to the fandom, says Patch O’Furr, cofounder of Dogpatch Press, a furry newsletter. Maybe it once resonated with the older crowd (“gray-muzzles,” in furry parlance) but these days kid furries model their identities on cartoons like Disney’s Zootopia that depict straight-up animals, with snouts and everything.
Let it be entered for the record that Patch is a dog, as are many of the furries who responded to me—with warmth—about the play’s role, or lack thereof, in their lives. Cat furries, like their four-footed cousins, tend to be more aloof than dogs. Cats tantalize. They leave you on read. You can only guess what’s hidden behind their eyes.
Undeterred by the facts, I went to see Cats anyway. There were no furries. (Then again, do I know that? Were they there in disguise?) I did see a bunch of children in tinsel-flecked kitten ear headbands. How cute. How blatantly not what I wanted. I sulked off to my seat and watched the first half of the show, which I must say was incredible.
When I checked my phone at intermission, the world was exploding. My algorithm, by now fucked beyond recognition into thinking I am a furry, was alerting me—alerting me—to the existence of the disturbing Cats movie trailer that by now everybody has seen.
“I think they should make a movie with the Charmin Bears,” was Patch’s incomparable response. Furry interest in the film appears low: again, those human faces. For the rest of us, Cats remains the mysterious phenomenon it always was, only now with Taylor Swift thrown in. Furries will have to be content to wait in their own world for the next Zootopia. Or maybe a live-action vehicle for those dummy thicc bears. v