'Cats' Returns to TPAC
Next week at TPAC, an Andrew Lloyd Weber classic rolls into town. Since its world premiere, CATS has been presented in over 30 countries, has been translated into 15 languages, and has been seen by more than 73 million people worldwide. CATS opened in London’s West End in 1981. The musical debuted on Broadway in 1982 where it won seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Both the original London and Broadway cast recordings won Grammy Awards for Best Cast Album. CATS hit song “Memory” has been recorded by over 150 artists from Barbra Streisand and Johnny Mathis to Liberace and Barry Manilow.
The Tony Award-winning Best Musical held the title of longest-running musical in Broadway history until it was surpassed in 2006 by Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera. The original Broadway production closed on September 10, 2000 and is currently the fourth longest-running show in Broadway history. This marks the first tour of the first-ever Broadway revival of the iconic musical. The first-ever, live-action film adaptation of CATS, produced by Universal Pictures and Working Title, will open on Dec. 20, 2019.
Based on T.S. Eliot’s “Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats,” the story tells of a tribe of cats who come together once a year under the Jellicle moon to pick which cat amongst them will be reborn to a new Jellicle life and ascend to the Heaviside Layer. The cats give us their pitch through song, leading to some great music.
I got to chat by phone with Dan Hoy who is playing Munkustrap, the rising leader of the Jellicle Cats. Hoy, a Cleveland native, is playing in his first touring role and is very excited to be playing a role he has always loved.
O&A: Tell us about the role you’re playing, Munkustrap
Munkustrap is sort of leader in training of the tribe and he acts as the narrator and the emcee throughout the night. So his job on the evening of the Jellicle Ball, which is the evening in which the show takes place, is to make sure that everything sort of goes off without a hitch. Of course, that does not end up happening, but he is always running around desperately trying to keep everyone safe and secure. Ultimately he goes on a pretty incredible journey of learning what true leadership is.
O&A: So what drew you to this role?
I actually grew up with CATS. When I was a kid, my parents had the VHS tape of the 1998 production and I actually watched it so many times that I broke the VHS and they had to buy me the DVD. When I was a kid, the show itself was just so fascinating. There was nothing else like it. It was so unique and it was such a spectacle and yet, in a weird way, relatable. One of the biggest critiques against CATS is that it doesn’t have a plot, but despite the fact that the plot is not front and center, as a kid, I always found something so ethereal about the show. And particularly with the Munkustrap character... He had this sort of this power about him and this grace as he protected everyone. He made sure everything was going right and he learned such a beautiful lesson throughout the show. It was so beautifully portrayed in the 1998 production, but to be able to tackle a role that had been so iconic and so crucial to my joining the industry has been an incredible experience.
O&A: So you’d say this is a dream role for you?
O&A: So you have an incredible resume. You have a background with regional and educational theater. You studied Musical Theatre at Baldwin-Wallace University, right?
I did. And actually just a fun little fact, both myself and the woman who plays Grizabella, Kari Renee Fuller; we went to the same school. We were three years apart. We actually knew each other from Baldwin-Wallace and from a regional gig or two. Actually, I remember walking into the callbacks and seeing her there and we both had a laugh like “Wouldn’t it be crazy if we both booked this job” and then, here we are!
O&A: So CATS is such an exciting show and it goes back several years. The first production was in the early 80s, so a lot of the newer LGBTQ community might not be as familiar with it. What should get them to come out to see the show?
What’s really cool about this particular production, and this has actually not been done in any sort of Broadway, Broadway Tour, West End, or International tour before other than the Broadway revival, is that this is actually not the original production. This production is choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler, who you might know from a little known show called Hamilton. He basically took inspiration from the original Jillian Lynn choreography and kind of gave it new life and breathed a 2019 vibe into it. So you're going to get all of the iconic material that you know and love if you had been a fan of the show, but what’s such an amazing draw now is that you're also going to get this sort of revamped new life to such an iconic piece. There are elements of hip hop and contemporary and modern sprinkled throughout and it's quite remarkable. Also, this show is just fascinating to me.
It's been really eye-opening getting to travel across the country and hear from fans all across the US. This show truly is timeless. And yes, it’s about cats and it's ultimately a bunch of people wearing unitards dancing around with yak wigs on their head, but there is something that is so incredibly moving about the piece. It is truly a story of tolerance and acceptance. One of the main points of the show is about Grizabella, who sings the iconic Memory, and her initial rejection from the tribe. She has committed acts that we have deemed unacceptable and she has been banned and throughout the show keeps coming back and just begging for acceptance and for love and for tolerance. At the end of the day, I think the biggest lesson that my character learns is that leadership does not come through rejecting that which you do not understand, but rather it comes through accepting and embracing the differences and ultimately forgiving others for actions that they may have taken or understanding that sometimes people are not going to be the same as you and ultimately it's is such a celebration of diversity and love and it's just it's a really incredible story to get to witness. I think it has incredible relevance in in 2019.
O&A: That's a good point. And I love that you said that there's new life being breathed into it. What else should we be watching for?
Ok, so a super cool thing, and this goes back to the 2016 revival, is actually the lighting design which probably sounds really strange. But Natasha Katz won a Tony Award for her design on the show and it elevates everything and then that that's the best way I can describe it look like there will be a moment where a piece of choreography people seem like it's like pushing light across the stage and its really really fascinating. It truly adds to the spectacle of the piece. And also, just the talent of a lot of the dancers. In the role that I am in a lot of what I do is more of the storytelling in the singing but we have an ensemble that comprises of just some of the best dancers, you know, they are pirouetting for their lives. They are flipping, they are they are just incredible. I'm in awe of my co-workers every single day. That's another thing obviously to get very excited for the show.
Info and tickets to CATS are available at tpac.org/cats. No lottery has been announced yet, but watch our socials to see if that changes. Be sure to watch O&A’s Facebook page Opening Night Tuesday November 19 for the #PostShowReview.
You can find Dan Hoy on Instagram and Twitter at @dan_jhoy, facebook at @DanHoy95, and his website: www.danhoy.org.
Eric A. Patton is a seventh generation Tennessean and has lived in Nashville since 2010. He serves as the Lead Entertainment Correspondent with Out & About Nashville. He is also on the Human Rights Campaign’s National Board of Governors and is a member of Belmont United Methodist Church and active with the Reconciling Ministries Network. He’s on Instagram and Twitter at @eapatton_tn, Facebook at @eapattontn, and you can email him at email@example.com.