Midnight. Not a sound from the pavement. Suddenly an explosion of music and lights reveals a larger-than-life junkyard. Probing car lights tear across the darkened landscape of bottles and boxes, briefly catching the darting image of a running feline. Tonight is the one special night each year when the tribe of Jellicle Cats reunites to celebrate who they are. They emerge singing of their unique abilities and special traits.
The cats are at first suspicious and reluctant to allow the audience into their domain. They are proud, however, and in The Naming of the Cats explain to their human visitors who they are and reveal that cats have three different names: the one the family uses daily, a more dignified name and a secret name. It is the contemplation of these secret names which keeps felines deep in thought.
Victoria, a young white cat, dances to signal The Invitation to the Jellicle Ball. Munkustrap, a large grey tabby, explains that the Jellicle Cats meet once a year to rejoice! They are waiting for their leader, the wise Old Deuteronomy, who will choose which one of the Jellicle Cats will journey to the Heaviside Layer to be ‘reborn’ into a new life!
Jennyanydots, the Old Gumbie Cat, sleeps and lounges all day long. ‘She sits and sits and sits and sits, and that’s what makes a Gumbie Cat!’
The Rum Tum Tugger is a playful prankster that the female cats find extremely attractive, and who enjoys being the centre of attention.
Grizabella, the Glamour Cat, is shunned by the rest of the tribe despite being a Jellicle Cat. She left the tribe years ago to explore the outside world and now wants to return.
Bustopher Jones is a large ‘twenty-five pounder’, always clad in his signature white spats. He spends his time eating, eating and eating in one of the many English pubs and clubs that he frequents.
Suddenly a thunderous crash, followed by the sound of police sirens and flashing red lights, signals that the villainous cat Macavity is on the loose! The cats scatter, leaving an empty stage.
Two off-stage giggles signal the entrance of Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer, a fun-loving, frolicking team of pranksters who are always getting into trouble with the family with whom they live.
The entire tribe re-enters as their benevolent and wise old leader Old Deuteronomy arrives. The cats adore and respect him. ‘And now that the Jellicle leader is here, Jellicle Cats can all rejoice’.
They entertain him with a special show which Munkustrap narrates, The Aweful Battle of the Pekes and the Pollicles together with The Marching Song of the Pollicle Dogs. The cats dress up as the two rival dog factions who bark ceaselessly at each other until they are frightened away by the great Rumpus Cat, a sleek and powerful feline.
Yet another crash from the villainous Macavity is heard, which sends the cats scurrying. Old Deuteronomy soothes them as they come back one by one. It is time for The Jellicle Ball, the great annual dance in which all of the cats celebrate.
Grizabella appears once more, wanting to rejoin her family and be a part of the celebration. She is left to contemplate her Memory of the time before she left the tribe. She stretches out her hand behind her, hoping another cat will touch her. She is still not accepted and, disappointed, slinks off into the night.
After the Jellicle Ball, the cats rest and contemplate The Moments of Happiness before introducing more cats.
Gus the Theatre Cat is an aged stage actor who worked with the greatest actors of his day. Gus tells of his greatest theatrical triumphs, and yearns to perform again.
Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat introduces himself. A friendly uncle to all the cats, Skimbleshanks attends the trains he rides, and makes sure every detail is perfect.
A third crash interrupts the celebration, and this time the villainous Macavity appears. Two of his henchmen invade the proceedings and kidnap Old Deuteronomy. Demeter and Bombalurina sing what they know of Macavity, whose evil deeds have resulted in his being dubbed ‘the Napoleon of crime’.
Macavity returns, disguised as Old Deuteronomy, but he is exposed and battles with Munkustrap and the other male cats. Tired and almost defeated, Macavity rigs an electrical explosion that puts out all the lights, leaving the Jellicles in the dark. But they still have to find Old Deuteronomy. The Rum Tum Tugger calls in Mr Mistoffelees, the conjuring cat, to use his magical powers to bring back their leader. Mistoffelees succeeds in reinstating the lights, locating Old Deuteronomy and showing off his magic tricks, including his infamous conjuring turn.
At last the time has come for Old Deuteronomy to make the Jellicle Choice and decide which cat will be reborn into a new Jellicle life. At that moment, Grizabella reappears. Again she recalls her Memory of how things used to be. This time the cats accept her back into the tribe and it is she who is chosen to journey to the Heaviside Layer and be reborn.
The Jellicle Ball has come to a conclusion, but first Old Deuteronomy instructs the human spectators in The Addressing of Cats. For all their unique qualities and differences, he says, ‘cats are very much like you’.