And now, of course, I’m famous!
H. Lena Jones
Who would have thought it, eh? Who would have thought that I, 80 year-old Melvina Alexandra Dudley—MAD for short—would one day end up performing in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Cats at the most famous theatre in Toronto? Not even Miss. Zitfree, my old drama teacher, would have believed it! It just goes to show, you should never give up on your dreams!
Anyway, I knew the musical forwards and backwards. I loved it with a passion; the songs were engrained in my memory. Ha! Mid…night, all alone—there I go, singing again, just can't help myself! Anyway, when I lived in London, England, I attended the performance, not once, but twice a week for two years.
I had bonded with old Gumbie cat and Growltiger cat; with Rum Tum Tugger cat and the Jellicles cat. I knew the lot. Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer—the notorious duo, and old Deuteronomy, too. Then there were Pekes and the Pollicles, and Mr Mistoffelees and Macavity, the mystery cat; and good old Gus or Asparagus, his proper name. Then there was Bustopher Jones—the cat about town, and Skimbleshanks, the railway cat. And let’s not forget that old stinker, Cat Morgan, the high seas pirate.
But the cat I loved most was Grezabella. Although she did not exist in the original story of Practical Cats, I enjoyed her and thought her creation quite effective. She was a reminder of what awaits us in the winter of our life. Although her appearance was intermittent, and she sang only small portions of Memory, she sang with passion. Hers was the easiest act to follow and emulate. Yes, I knew all the characters and could play them all if given half a chance. A one-woman show would have been ideal, had I thought of it before.
Anyway, there I was, in the audience, anxiously awaiting curtains-up; ready to hum the introductory notes from the orchestra concealed below the stage—ten past eight…twenty-past eight…no sign of anything happening, no tuning of musical instruments, no announcement, no dimming of lights, nothing. The audience shuffled in their seats, but was too polite to be ungracious.
Finally the PA system boomed. A voice, labored with control, silenced the restless audience.
“Sorry to keep you waiting ladies and gentlemen. We have a major problem. A vicious throat virus has incapacitated our Grezabella and her understudy. Our show this evening has to be cancelled. We regret the inconvenience and the disappointment. Your tickets will be refunded at the box office. Please leave quietly.”
The stunned audience remained silent and polite. This was the final night of the performance! That’s when the voice inside my head whispered: “This is it MAD, your moment of stardom has arrived. Belt out the first few bars of Grezabella’s opening song. I dare you.”
A dare? I couldn’t ignore that. “Wait!” I shouted, springing up from my seat in center balcony, and out poured the first four lines from Grezabella’s song Memory, flawless and melodious: “Mid - night, not a sound from the pave - ment, - has the moon lost her mem - ‘ry? - She is smil - ing alone.”
When I had reached ‘pave - ment’, someone shone a white spotlight on me. I was temporarily blinded, but kept on singing. Two lines were all I needed to sing, before the audience broke into wild applause and whistles. Above the chaos, I could hear a booming voice over the PA system: “I do believe we’ve found our Grezabella. If the audience doesn’t mind one of its own, unrehearsed locals, performing the part of Grezabella, the show will go on.”
The sound of shoes stomping on the wood floors filled the theatre like stampeding horses. A chorus rose above the bedlam: “Let the show go on. Our local will perform. Let the show begin. Our local has saved the night.”
Before I could say “Mistoffelees”, two officials, dressed in black tailcoats and top hats, were directing me backstage. I had no time to be nervous, not even when someone peeled off my clothes. Was I glad I had worn clean underwear! Fortunately, Grezabella’s costume fitted like a glove, and lickety-split, just like that, I was transformed—make-up, long painted false nails, whiskers…the lot. I looked like a cat and I felt like a cat. “Meow!” I must be a cat, though an old one!
I needed no prompting when Grezabella had to make her first appearance. The audience went berserk again when I, the local prodigy, emerged for my first prance onto the darkened ‘stage’ street. As I slowly turned to face them, silence descended like an invisible cloak muffling even the softest whisper. I uttered the first words of Memory. No one stirred. Faces, spellbound by my delivery, stared up at me as if I were a giant magnet.
When I appeared again for my final rendition of Memory and turned to watch the great paw-hand descend slowly from Cat Heaven, I could feel the tension from the audience. I slinked onto the mechanical paw, ascending it in dramatic fashion, disappearing into the fluffy cloud of dry ice surrounding it. What a moving and poignant moment! The audience applauded with gusto. And as they say in show biz, the rest was history.
You can imagine the headlines and photos which saturated the front page of every newspaper in print: Local senior citizen a huge success! Local elderly beats the odds! Untrained local granny saves the night! Toronto’s Royal Alex rocks with unprecedented performance! Local proves miracles can happen at any age!
And now, of course, I’m famous! It was a dream come true ! It was—
“Will someone please give Dudley a jab,” said Miss Zitfree’s voice. “She’s away with the fairies again. Tell her the bus is here to take us to the theatre.”