Grizabella is a principal character in the musical Cats.
|“||proud, hurt, indomitable||”|
Grizabella's personality is dominated by regret, rejection, and loneliness. She is portrayed as an older cat, although she may not be as old as her appearance implies. She usually moves slowly and carefully, suggesting stiffness or an injury. Grizabella is despised by the Jellicle cats, for reasons unspecified. She is a sad, lonely cat, dreaming of the days where she was young, beautiful and adored.
The character is/was a prostitute. For TS Eliot, the area of Tottenham Court Road, where Grizabella is stated to be seen regularly, was strongly associate with prostitutes, and the imagery of the once beautiful star now residing with those shunned by society became a central theme for the character and the musical as a whole.
|“||Strong, experienced singer/actress with high belt (to D flat), sings "Memory". The one time star among cats has seen better times. She now lives in the gutter and is despised by the other cats. She is vulnerable, but she is also a survivor.||”|
Grizabella first appears as the Cats are getting carried away with Rum Tum Tugger's antics. She immediately kills the mood. Most of the Jellicle cats scratch and claw at Grizabella. The kittens pity her and try to touch and accept her but the elders pull them away.
Grizabella desperately wants to be accepted back into the tribe - she hides in the shadows and watches the Jellicle Ball. At the end of the Ball, she takes the empty stage and copies some of the dance moves and sings the first verse of "Memory". She senses someone reaching out to her but she is still too proud and independent, and walks off. It is only when the night is nearly over that she is desperate enough to appeal to the tribe one last time and sings "Memory" in full.
Later, Grizabella appears just before Old Deuteronomy will decide who will go to the Heaviside Layer. As she sings the full version/reprise of "Memory", she collapses. Jemima picks up where she left off and helps Grizabella finish her song. Victoria then reaches out to touch her. The remaining Jellicle cats finally touch her and accept her back into the tribe.
Grizabella is then chosen by Old Deuteronomy to be reborn, and "come back to a different Jellicle life", and ascends up to the Heaviside Layer.
Judi Dench Edit
In the Original London Production, Dame Judi Dench was cast to play Grizabella and Jennyanydots, doubling characters much as the actor who plays Asparagus also plays Bustopher Jones, without an implied link between the roles. However she was injured in rehearsal, and at the last minute Elaine Paige was cast as her replacement.
Grizabella wears a ragged and worn out coat, covering the remains of a black sequinned dress. She wears high-heeled shoes and stockings over her unitard, but one stocking has fallen around her ankle. Her wig is long and curly, the only wig in the show to be made of human hair rather than yak hair.
At the beginning of the show, the actress playing Grizabella is usually in the ensemble, sometimes referred to as "Baby/Young Grizabella". She has an unremarkable costume of greys and browns, sometimes with a black velvet ribbon around her neck. The unitard and simple makeup form the base of her featured costume, with heavy black lines added to the makeup, and dress and coat over the unitard.
During the first scenes of the show, Grizabella usually appears in the ensemble in an understated grey and brown costume. She is designed specifically to not stand out from the other cats. In an interview, Prisca Demarez describes her feelings about her chorus identity:
Marie Berson: I, for one, would be very curious to hear more about the cat you play at first with the Jellicles before Grizabella's entrance! Does she have a name? A role?
Prisca: It's such a delight to perform the opening number with the whole cast! That moment is very important to me. Of course she has a name! Her name is Baby Griz, but I call her Grizzy Baby. She has the same colours as Grizabella on her face. She's as pure as Victoria and doesn't know life's sorrows yet. She's a kitten. I think she rounds everything off. She embodies the beginning of life, in a family, before the choices and difficulties arise.
I'm often asked why Grizabella doesn't come back young and beautiful at the end. I think we actually see her at the start, as Grizzy Baby, like a new life, a blank page to be filled in. It's what Grizabella was when she was little. It's in that form that she'll come back from the Heavyside Layer - as a kitten.
She allows me to have a past with the group, a feeling of having danced with them before I couldn't do it anymore. And she's so joyful and light before she carries the weight of Grizabella's sorrow.
Grizabella is described in a song named after her, sung by Bombalurina and Demeter ("Grizabella the Glamour Cat") but also sings a song ("Memory", "Memory (Reprise)"), lamenting her age, living in the memories of a better time.
For fandom headcanons and theories, CLICK HERE.
- ↑ Trevor Nunn, CATS Ultimate Edition DVD extras