Tobacco Road: The Play

Like virtually everyone else in the English-speaking world, I was recently absorbed by the shock-and-awe that is the trailer for Tom Hooper's Cats movie:

I am not here to belabour all of the points that everyone else has already made about this trailer. After the fiasco that was Les Miserables I will not be spending any time on this movie.

However, the trailer did make me pretty curious about Cats. I know the song "Memory" and roughly what the stage show costumes look like and that's basically it. Well, except that I vaguely had an idea that some famous writer was behind it.

So I went down a bit of a Wikipedia rabbit hole.

Cats is based on T. S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats.

Cats is the fourth-longest running Broadway show of all time.

What's the longest running? The Phantom of the Opera, of course.

But if you scroll down that list of longest-running shows, you may notice something interesting. I recognized everything until #8, which is a revue called Oh! Calcutta!, which ended in 1989 and which I have never heard of before in my life. Contrast that with #7, A Chorus Line, which ended its run a year later but which I have at least heard of a lot of times.

Scroll down even further, and you find #19 is Tobacco Road, and yes, it's the play adaptation of the book.

It's been almost four years since I last mentioned Tobacco Road, because it's not a book I enjoy thinking about and nobody cares about it anymore. So needless to say I was shocked-and-awed to see that an adaptation of it was so popular.

Here are some details, all via Wikipedia of course:
  • The play was first performed in 1933, one year after the publication of the novel.
  • It ran for 3,182 performances until 1941.
  • As noted previously, this makes it the 19th longest-running Broadway show in history.
  • It's also the second-longest run for a non-musical on Broadway.
  • The reviews were negative but it gained an audience after ticket prices were extremely reduced (from $3.30 to $1.10).
  • Various cities and the United Kingdom banned it for being too sensational and immoral.

Anyway, I still don't recommend the book and just reading the synopsis of the play made my skin crawl all over again.

If not for that bizarre Cats trailer, I never would've found this out. It's so fascinating to me that something could've been so popular in its time but is almost completely forgotten now. I bet if you asked 100 people if they've heard of Tobacco Road, only one of them would have, and that one would be me.

Fame, ladies and gentleman. It is a whimsical mistress.

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