I first heard of CATS when I was 10 years old and my dance class did Mr. Mistoffelees in our annual show. Even though that dance stands out as the most inventive and fun of all I did in my 16 years of dance lessons and shows, I thought CATS itself must be quite serious to have all that dancing in. I was probably intimidated by the thought of how incredible the dancers are, since I found ballet quite hard and will probably never achieve a double pirouette without overbalancing or landing too soon. The original posters don't tell much about the show, so when I first saw it in 1998 on a school trip I was surprised when Munkustrap explained that it was all just a bunch of cats dancing in a rubbish dump.
I was delighted by T.S.Eliot's ideas about the secret lives of cats and the dancing was incredible. I remember leaning forward in my seat at the back of the circle throughout the show, enthralled. Later I bought the original London cast recording and Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats and, even though I don't remember having read or heard the poems before, the name Carbucketty seemed familiar. I loved the CD and played it whenever I had a boring essay to write, often just from Skimbleshanks through to Mr. Mistoffelees. Skimbleshanks is my favourite song, it's so much fun and my childhood cat was a ginger tabby named Honey.
When the video came out the same year I was given a copy for my birthday or Christmas (they're close), but watched it once at most. A year later I came home from university for the weekend wanting to watch it and that was when I got hooked, watching it every day for the next week. I looked up the official video website, saved the Mungojerrie desktop wallpaper and looked up CATS in a search engine. The results of that search took hours every evening to trawl through, especially the fan fiction (this was the end of my short-lived vaguely-normal social life at university. I'm an introvert, it was going to happen). I remember seeing a button on a website marked Fanfic and wondering, "What's that?" as I'd never heard that word before. When I clicked on it, I was amazed. All those stories to read! It prompted me to write some of my own, daft as they were, and took me back to some writing I hadn't looked at for years since the stress of sixth form sapped my creativity (I'm currently working on a new story, with those characters, as a graphic novel).
Having become such a fan and discovered the online fandom, I realised how close I was to London so I went back to see the show again and then bored my friends stupid because I couldn't stop talking about it. Thanks to all the fansites I'd surfed, I decided to set up my own site so I could share my thoughts with fellow fans. I finally found Musicals.net with its CATS forum, which has sadly disappeared, but was still a hub of the fandom until early 2017. I met other fans when they came to London to see the show, organised the fans' 20th Anniversary party, and joined in when a group met up a few times to go cavorting around Leicester Square and Covent Garden in costume before seeing the show (mine was Demeter). I've heard some cast members in the UK find this incredibly cringey or even insulting, though others have been happy to see them especially in the US. Please know it's just a fun, creative hobby, no one means any harm, we're not crazy and we do respect the years of work and training put in to be cast in a professional show performing 8 times a week.
Since then I've seen CATS quite a few times (I think it's over 100; I lost count at 60) as it's always interesting to see a cast more than once and years ago I could benefit from student discounts. The first 37 times were in London, including once in the rain for the final show in Covent Garden. I've also seen the Danish production in Copenhagen and the World Tour in Oslo as well as the UK tours in Manchester, Edinburgh, Oxford, Wimbledon and Wolverhampton. I haven't managed to convert any friends, but two of them did once get me all the way to Oxford on the pretence of visiting the one at the university before they produced tickets to the UK tour. After all my yakking about it, I thought that was pretty sweet of them.