Battling ALS with an old cat Gus, Ted Williams and the Chorus
CHARLOTTE, NC, September 17, 2017 – Two Broadway musicals had a major impact on my life that carry over even today.
The first, “A Chorus Line”, opened at the Shubert Theater in New York in 1975. When it closed it was the longest running show in history. The record has now been surpassed but the poignant, simplicity of the show combined with the music of Marvin Hamlisch were the magic that have endeared it to theater-goers for nearly half a century..
The story revolves around an audition where seventeen dance wannabees are competing to be in chorus line of a new Broadway show. In the process we get a glimpse into the lives of each of the dancers and their personalities.
What is most compelling about “A Chorus Line” is the range of emotions among the idealistic dedicated characters as they pursue their dreams to make it on Broadway, Naivete, hope, innocence, insecurity, doubt, jealousy, competitiveness and countless other human frailties both subtle and obvious draw the audience into a voyeuristic emotional roller coaster.
While “A Chorus Line” is about dancing, it is really a metaphor for anyone who dares to challenge their dreams and reach for the stars. It could easily be interchanged with athletes, singers, musicians, artists, entrepreneurs or any other youthful enterprise filled with hope. In that sense the theme of “A Chorus Line” is universal in scope, and therein lies its appeal.
The second is an Andrew Lloyd Webber creation which opened in London in 1981 and on Broadway the following year. “Cats” is based upon T.S. Eliot’s book of whimsical poems “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” (1939).
The focus of the story is about a group of cats known as “Jellicles” who gather one night in a junk yard to select their choice to ascend to the Heaviside Layer where it will be reborn.
Much like “A Chorus Line” each cat has its own personality and the audience comes to know them intimately through song and dance.
Though “Cats” runs the gamut of a variety of feline personalities, it is not centered upon the theater except early in the second act when a palsy-ridden old cat slowly enters the stage. His name is “Gus”, which is short for “Asparagus.”
Gus is the “Theatre Cat” thanks to his career as an actor in his youth.
Though failing in health and becoming increasingly feeble each day, Gus is revered by the other cats who grew up watching his swashbuckling escapades of athletic derring-do on the stage.
When he makes his entrance, Gus is disoriented and needs help from the younger cats to find a place to relate his story. As the tale progresses, his memories bring new life to his soul as he recounts the glorious bygone days that have long since been surpassed by modern technologies.
In a sense, Gus easily represents the early desperate days of one of the Chorus Line dancers as he reflects upon his career. Now in the winter of his life, Gus reflects upon his most famous role, that of “Firefrorefiddle, the Fiend of the Fell” which is the story he tells to the others.
Eventually when Gus leaves the stage, his energy now sapped from his momentary surge of new life, he departs much as the way he entered.
Key among this vignette however, is the adoration of the other cats who see in Gus the accomplishment of dream. He represents that inspirational motivational force each of them hopes to emulate as their own lives progress.
In 1999, Fenway Park in Boston hosted the Major League All-Star Baseball game. During the ceremonies, one of the classic and most memorable moments came when former Red Sox slugger Ted Williams was pushed to home plate in a wheelchair. The scene was reminiscent of Gus in “Cats” as the contemporary all-star players gathered around to pay their respects to the last man to hit .400 in a season.
Ted Williams hit 521 home runs during his illustrious career, though he served tours of duty as a Marine Corps pilot during World War II and Korea. Both interruptions came at the height of his baseball career.
As the young players gathered around, they knew they were paying homage to arguably the greatest hitter in baseball history. Most had never seen Williams play with his lanky stride and prolific hitting style, but every one of them knew they were in the presence of a baseball legend.
That spirit lives on in the lives of innocent youngsters from every walk of life who strive to attain new heights and fulfill their goals. So succeed. Many, if not most, do not, but the important thing is the effort.
And so, from one fading “old cat” to another, “Thank you, Gus.” Thank you for reigniting the joy of innocence, exuberance and the ambition to pursue our dreams. Thank you for reminding us that memories never die and that dreams can, and do, often live on forever.
About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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