The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

People are seeing ‘Cats’ while high out of their minds. These are their stories.

(Tara Jacoby for The Washington Post)

It was her roommate’s idea, and at the time it seemed like a good one.

“She said, ‘Let’s do edibles and watch ‘Cats,’ ” says Sarah, a 26-year-old audiovisual producer from Louisville.

The big-screen adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s famous feline musical had been making news for all the wrong reasons, causing a gleeful feeding frenzy of criticism. As a cinematic fiasco, “Cats” became alluring in unintended ways: Sarah and her roommate decided that the movie could be worth their while, with the right preparations.

So, they each ate a chocolate candy infused with 5 milligrams of cannabis. They didn’t feel anything after a while, so they smoked a bit, too.

The pair arrived at the theater and settled into their seats.

“I’m feeling kind of okay” at that point, Sarah says, “like maybe I can get through this.” Then, just as the first frame of the movie came up, “I feel, like, a spot on the center of my forehead light up and start tingling, and it radiates throughout my whole body.”


“And I was like, ‘Oh, God, can I do this?’ ”

To be clear, The Washington Post does not endorse illicit drug use. And for most people, “Cats” is unnerving enough sober. It tells the story of a group of singing, dancing alley cats who compete for the chance to go to the Heaviside Layer, a metaphor for death and rebirth into the next of their nine lives. Critics have described the movie adaptation — which features a parade of superstars (Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, Taylor Swift, Jennifer Hudson, James Corden and others) rendered as uncanny human-cat hybrids — as a feverish drug dream, a bad trip. It is expected to lose as much as $100 million, according to Variety.

But those reviews have been a siren call for people who believe they know how to salvage an irretrievably weird movie, at least for themselves: by doing drugs first.

Hundreds of people told The Post their stories about seeing “Cats” while high — some on marijuana, others on psilocybin mushrooms, LSD and other mind-altering substances.

Here are their reviews:

“The most incredible cinematic experience of my life.”

“The most terrifying experience of my life. I swear to God my soul escaped me.”

“Cried both times. Planning on going two more times.”

“Vomited four times but ultimately understood the film on a deep level.”

“Had a panic attack in the middle of it . . . right after Taylor Swift sang ‘Macavity.’ ”

“When Judi Dench turned and looked me directly in the eyes to let me know that a cat is not a dog, I was terrified.”

It was unclear, on balance, whether getting high made “Cats” better, or much, much worse. Certainly, it seemed to raise the emotional stakes. One person reported bursting into tears before the film even started, during a trailer for “Trolls World Tour.”

Recreational marijuana is legal in 11 states and the District, and a number of the people interviewed for this story asked that their full names be withheld — either because marijuana was not legal in their state or because they worried about professional repercussions. But going to “Cats” stoned seemed to be something people were doing, and sure enough, an open call on Twitter yielded a deluge of testimonials.

Annaliese Nielsen, who owns a cannabis brand in Los Angeles, used a strain of weed calibrated for relaxation, but found herself unable to relax in a dark theater illuminated by the ghastly cat face of Corden. “I’m 36 and announced, ‘I’m scared!’ to my fellow moviegoers at least seven times,” says Nielsen, who called the film “a special kind of evil.”

Charlotte Clymer, 33, an LGBTQ activist in Washington, ate THC-infused gummy candies before her screening, and also found the movie terrifying. “Three-quarters of the way through the movie,” she says, “I was like, ‘I hope I don’t hate my own cats when I get home.’ ”

Raina, a 25-year-old from South Carolina, also ate gummies. She could not get past the mismatched proportions of the cats in the film. Sometimes they were cat-sized, sometime they were human-sized, and sometimes they appeared to be the size of mice.

She made it 10 minutes, she says, “and then I went to the AMC bathroom and threw up.”

Soon after the tingling feeling started in her forehead, Sarah, the 26-year-old from Louisville, realized that she and her roommate had made a miscalculation. The humanlike cats (catlike humans?) were grotesque. Sarah couldn’t stop staring at their feet. Er, paws. No, hands. “Where their fur ends and their human hands start, it would move in a weird unnatural way,” she says. At one point, Jennyanydots, the cat played by Rebel Wilson, eats dancing cockroaches who have human faces, in a “horrifying” scene.

“I felt like I was losing my mind,” Sarah says. “I was just concentrating on taking deep breaths.”

But then there are the people for whom “Cats” under the influence was positively moving.

“I was so delighted,” says Kat (yes, her real name), a 32-year-old in Los Angeles. “I was like, ‘Is this genius? Is this the best thing I have ever seen?’ ”

“I had a realization partway through that I am the only person in the world who understands ‘Cats,’ ” says Kate, 31, a medical researcher in Chicago, who soon found herself plotting a “Cats”-based doctoral thesis while still in the theater: She would examine the class dialectic of 1930s London (when T.S. Eliot wrote the poems that inspired “Cats”), the late ’80s heyday of Webber and police brutality in 2019.

“It doesn’t sound as groundbreaking now,” Kate says, “but please remember I was very stoned.”

In New York, a 26-year-old man named Ryan, who messaged The Post while still high on the edibles he took for that evening’s screening, expressed his lust for “a particular cat I would love to do bad things to me.” (It was Munkustrap, played by chiseled ballet dancer Robbie Fairchild).

In Michigan, a 33-year-old man named Zachary, also on edibles, wrestled with his own attraction to the cat version of Swift. (“Her face still looks like Taylor Swift,” he tells The Post — and also, it seems, himself. “But no, she’s a monster.”)

A 40-year-old Washingtonian named Danielle found herself confounded — first in an academic way, then in a giggling-uncontrollably way — by the below-the-belt anatomies of the creatures on-screen.

In Seattle, a 26-year-old teacher named Dan ate a 20-milligram THC caramel and popped on his headphones to see if “Cats” would sync up with Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon,” like “The Wizard of Oz” is supposed to do, according to stoner lore. If you spin the album twice, Dan reports, McKellen’s performance of “Gus: The Theatre Cat” aligns perfectly with “The Great Gig in the Sky.”

In Los Angeles, a 23-year-old actor named Davis, who went to the movie with some friends, took a huge hit of amyl nitrite (i.e. “poppers”) at a key moment. “It was literally as Jennifer [Hudson] screams out, ‘Touch meeeeee, it’s so easy to leave meeeeeee,’ the poppers for all three of us kicked in,” he says. “I felt myself hit the Heaviside Layer like Grizabella, the glamour cat.”

Could “Cats,” dead on arrival with critics and mass audiences, ascend to the Heaviside Layer to be reborn as a stoner classic? There’s talk that the movie could be the next “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” a cult film from 1975 that still inspires audiences to dress up as the characters and yell at the screen. On Twitter, someone posted video of an audience member in a cat suit dancing along to the credits. Some theaters, like the Alamo Drafthouse, are hosting “rowdy” screenings of “Cats” where people — many in various states of inebriation — are encouraged to yell at the screen. Other screenings not explicitly designated as “rowdy” are becoming communal experiences nonetheless — or, perhaps, mass trauma events.

One “Cats” viewer who ate a THC-infused caramel, a 43-year-old Tony-award-winning Broadway producer in New York, described a “bonding experience” with other attendees in the sparsely populated theater: “Just like, okay, we’re doing this together, this is a thing that is transpiring, and we are bearing witness.”

The precise moment when he “punctured the looking glass” happened toward the end of the movie, following the kidnapping of Old Deuteronomy, played by Dench. When Mr. Mistoffelees, the magician cat, “conjured Judi Dench back, and she sang his tune for the 900th time,” he says, “I lost touch with what we understand is reality. At that point, the rest of the audience was in gales of laughter as well, and then it was just a slide down the chute of hysteria to the end.”

When they left the theater, “there was just silence, no one had words,” says the Broadway producer. “No one could name what had happened to us.”