The Broadway revival company of "Cats". Photo credit: Matthew Murphy
With their first tour stop in Providence, Rhode Island in just a few short weeks, this brand new cast of Cats the musical has been rehearsing eight hours a day deep in the heart of Manhattan’s theatre district. From their perch above Broadway, the Cats are getting prepared to take this fresh revival of the classic Jellicle adventure and share it with the rest of the country.
Three-time Tony® winner Andy Blankenbuehler, whose style brought a fresh choreographic eye to Gillian Lynne’s emblematic movement for the revival production, helped fashion the movement alongside Trevor Nunn’s formative direction.
For this new tour, the revival’s resident choreographer Kim Craven and associate director Chrissie Cartwright were tasked with translating Blankenbuehler, Lynne, and Nunn’s homogenized staging.
“This was so different than anything I’ve ever worked on,” Craven told Dance Network. “It was a complete culture blast for me.”
Kim Craven, no stranger to Broadway’s boards herself, began her career in the classical world. Starting her early training with The Pennsylvania Ballet, Craven has since gone on to work with some of the biggest names in the dance world. Having assisted major players like Lynne Taylor-Corbett, Denis Jones, and the legendary Twyla Tharp— with whom she worked on Movin’ Out, Come Fly Away, and Times They Are A-Changin’— Craven was the perfect candidate to help meld Blankenbuehler and Lynne’s iconically creative methodologies.
“Marrying Gillian and Andy’s styles was challenging,” Craven said. “For Andy, so many of the accents [now intertwined into the show’s movement, were so different] in regard to the original [choreography], because [it was based more] in its felinity. Andy wanted to break that up. It became about the hits and ticks and the subtext. So, there would be moments of [Gilliane’s] codified movement, and Andy would bring his instinct of how he responds to music. It was very exciting for the dancers, but it was difficult.”
Blankenbuehler, while preparing to set a new company of Hamilton in Puerto Rico, has been choreographing the dances for the new FX miniseries Fosse/Verdonalongside fellow Hamilton collaborators Lin-Manuel Miranda and Thomas Kail.
“This tour production, I think, is going to be the best product because, while we got to know the beast for Broadway— and it was very exciting and very great— here, we’re going to be able to get the tuning just right,” Craven continued. “Now, we can, even better, intrinsically mesh it all. On Broadway, we tamed the beast, and now we’re bringing it back to life.”
McGee Maddox, who plays Bill Bailey/Rum Tum Tugger in the tour, recently made the transition into Musical Theatre from classical ballet.
“The musical theatre is a new world to me,” Maddox said. “What I like about it that’s different is that there’s a much tighter camaraderie between the actors and performers. There’s also an immediacy to learning this work— we have such a short amount of time to learn it, yet so much time to perform it and perfect it onstage— and really enjoy the roles we’re doing.”
Coming from an eight-year stint with the National Ballet of Canada where he danced works by Wheeldon, Ratmansky, Robbins, and Balanchine, Maddox, a South Carolina native, is excited to be working in a new genre.
“To be touring a show like Cats with so much history and legacy, one of the most popular and well known shows around the world— and, with this new reincarnation of choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler— to be taking this show around the country, I think it’s a proper reintroduction of Cats to a new generation,” Maddox said. “Hopefully the kids who saw Cats in the ’80s will be able to introduce their kids to Cats.”
Many of the dancers in the new production are excited to share this version of the classic piece with folks around the country.
“It’s ultimately an opportunity to inspire and cultivate an excitement around the art of dancing,” Tony d’Alelio who dances the role Mungojerrie said. “Dance elevates the theatrical experience, and what better than Cats?”
“We’ve been talking about this a lot today, how Cats inspired us as dancers and performers,” added Rose Iannacone, who dances Rumpleteazer. “It’s very exciting and motivating [for us] to instill that joy of dance to other people all around the US."
Dan Hoy, who plays Munkustrap— the cat second in command of the Jelliciles— understands the significance of the musical to its legions of fans.
"There are a lot of people that really, really love this piece,” Hoy explained. “People are so excited to have this come to their hometowns— and I’m honored.”
Timothy Gulan who plays Peter, Bustopher Jones, and Asparagus, is a Broadway and national tour veteran of shows like The Last Ship, Les Miserables, and South Pacific. Gulan spoke about the buzz the show’s tour is already creating.
“I know some people from high school that I’m still Facebook friends with that are not musical theatre people, and they’re like, ‘you’re in Cats!? My daughter loves Cats!” said Gulan. “It’s really cool to watch people who really aren’t even musical theatre fans get excited about dance. It’s amazing.”
Tion Gaston, the dancer/actor behind the role of the Magical Mister Mistofelees, loves the new point of view Blankebuheler’s input has brought to the musical.
“The contemporary aspect that the show has now— and, obviously, the original choreography is genius— but with Andy’s new twists and ‘twerk’ he’s put in there, it makes it more modern— more contemporary,” Gaston said. “It’s going to be fun to see how the audience reacts to it, and how they take in what we are giving to them.”
Mamie Parris as Grizabella. Photo credit: Matthew Murphy
Keri René Fuller stars as Grizabella, the “glamour cat” who, despite her name, lives lost in a world inside her head— dreaming of a time when she was adored and loved. Fuller, however, is more than up to the task of playing the role known for belting the hit eleven o’clock number, “Memory.”
“I began [as a vocalist] listening to singers like Lina Eder, and of course Barbara Streisand, and then Celine Dion— and I think there’s a stamina difference between pop musicals of today and what Andrew Lloyd Webber embodied in Cats and, more specifically in ‘Memory,’” Fuller said. “It’s a big sing, but [Webber] is so good, he’s so good! It’s just this amazing acting piece— a large monologe— and it’s just beautiful.”
“I never, ever imagined, I would join the incredible cannon of women who’ve played this role,” Fuller added, referring to the likes of Elaine Page, Betty Buckley, Leona Lewis, Mamie Parris and other giants of the theatre. “I feel like I’ve been given this huge gift.”
Dance Network, while at the press event, presented the Cats cast with some trivia about America’s favorite pet, in a little game we called "Cats Facts". Check out the segment here:
The cast of the national tour of Cats includes: Phillip Deceus as "Alonzo," McGee Maddox as "Bill Bailey/Rum Tum Tugger," Lexie Plath as "Bombalurina," Mariah Reives as "Cassandra," PJ DiGaetano as "Coricopat," Liz Schmitz as "Demeter," Keri René Fuller as "Grizabella," Kaitlyn Davidson as "Jellylorum," Emily Jeanne Phillips as "Jennyanydots," Tion Gaston as "Mistoffelees," Tony D'Alelio as "Mungojerrie," Dan Hoy as "Munkustrap," Timothy Gulan as "Peter/Bustopher Jones/Asparagus," Tyler John Logan as "Plato/Macavity," Anthony Michael Zas as "Pouncival," Rose Iannaccone as "Rumpelteazer," Ahren Victory as "Sillabub," Ethan Saviet as "Skimbleshanks," Halli Toland as "Tantomile," Devin Neilson as "Tumblebrutus," Brandon Michael Nase as "Victor/Old Deuteronomy," Caitlin Bond as "Victoria," along with Zachary S. Berger, Nicholas Burrage, Erin Chupinsky, Maria Failla, Justin W. Geiss, Charlotte O'Dowd, Adam Richardson, Tricia Tanguy, Andy Zimmermann, and Laura Katherine Kaufman.
For more information on the production, tour dates and cities, or tickets, visit CatsTheMusical.com