National “Cats” Musical Tour Arrives in Columbus at the Ohio Theater

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s feline fantasia “Cats” is back on the prowl with some new hops and purrs.

The nationwide tour, based on the Broadway cover of Tony’s award-winning musical, kicks off Jan. 11 at the Ohio Theater.

“This ‘Cats’ incorporates grounded, avant-garde style, including funk and hip-hop,” said Kim Craven, Resident Revival Choreographer and Touring Associate Choreographer.

His work mirrors the choreography of the 2016-2017 revival by Andy Blankenbuehler (a winning Tony for “Hamilton”). Her work, in turn, was based on Gillian Lynne’s original choreography for the London and New York blockbuster, the latter having achieved a record 7,485 performances from 1982 to 2000.

“For Gillian, it was all about being a cat. For Andy, it’s about having a sensational dance, so we really had to marry the two, ”Craven said.

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Craven’s goal was to define dance to reflect Blankenbuehler’s contemporary approach.

“When everyone’s going, going, going and sweeping the screens, Andy had to update the dance with a little oomph to today’s tempo,” she said.

“Cats” set a musical standard

Going beyond most dance musicals, “Cats” was the first mega-hit to use movement, along with costume and makeup, to define animal characters.

“Each cat has a different personality and voice. … Andy wanted to juice it up and bring his street style to it, ”Craven said.

Still, updating Lynne’s choreography was like “changing the ‘Mona Lisa’” because it worked so well for so long, she said.

Lloyd Webber originally devised a song cycle based on TS Eliot’s poems in “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats”. Additional lyrics were added later by Richard Stilgoe and director Trevor Nunn, who worked with the original cast to develop the story of a tribe of cats coming together to choose who will ascend the “HeaviSide layer” to be reborn.

“’Cats’ reflects the brilliant, layered music genius of Lloyd Webber and Nunn, but also the exciting and sexy dance genius,” Craven said.

Even so, the recovery received mixed reviews.

In The New York Times, critic Charles Isherwood wrote: “There were a few tweaks … Or it’s the ‘cats’ you knew and laughed at when you first met them. “

Craven takes those beards in stride.

Tayler Harris as Grizabella on the Nationwide Tour of

“Let’s face it: ‘Cats’ is a weird musical. People are cats and we have to buy into it, but that’s the magic of the theater: the suspension of disbelief, ”she said.

“Cats” – which has won more than $ 3.5 billion in productions worldwide – opened the doors to Broadway for other epic mega-hits from the British invasion, including “Les Misérables”, “Miss Saigon “and” The Phantom of the Opera “by Lloyd Webber. ”, Which exceeded the longevity of the“ Cats ”in 2006.

With its immersive theatricality and movement-driven narrative, “Cats” also paved the way for Disney’s “The Lion King,” the other animal mega-hit that won a Tony.

“’Cats’ is spectacular musically and visually, but it was also a new idea: for the first time, they allowed the dance to tell a story for two hours straight,” Craven said.

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Resolutely feline choreography

The choreography incorporates ballet jumps and pirouettes, while the arched backs and twisted necks evoke feline movements.

“It’s about the way you move as a cat, the way it listens and moves. … Cats feel things differently, with their ears, necks and backs, ”Craven said.

A typical feline move, especially at the start and end of the show, is the ‘leap’ – a sudden leap forward and a throw of the arm, as the hands claw forward and the eyes are dazzling, Craven said.

“It challenges the public and shows that cats can be dangerous, not just sweet and cuddly. … It’s like ‘remember’, ”she said.

With the cast in unitards, the raw physicality is exhilarating, Craven said.

Few characters embody this physicality with more swagger than Rum Tum Tugger.

“Over the past 40 years he has been iconic. … the epitome of sex, drugs and rock and roll, ”said Zach Bravo, who plays the role on tour.

Inspired by rock stars such as Elvis Presley and Mick Jagger, the cat makes its entrance strutting on the hips with the song “The Rum Tum Tugger”.

Zach Bravo as Rum Tum Tugger in the National Tour of

“The song has a hook and such motivation. You hear in the lyrics that he’s mischievous, eccentric, and enjoying “horrible confusion”, “Bravo said.

The challenge of the signing role, he said, is showing off the mean and kind sides of the cat.

“It’s so easy to describe him as a jerk. I do my best every night to show that he really cares about the cat tribe. … But I take a lot of inspiration from rock stars of the past, like Jagger, Prince or even Elvis, ”Bravo said.

Tayler Harris plays Grizabella the glamorous cat.

“She’s the outcast of the tribe, but she perseveres,” Harris said.

“Grizabella walks with dignity and pride, but you see the pain in her eyes. She just wants to be part of the community again. … ‘Cats’ speaks of unity, community, acceptance and grace to each as the Jellicle Tribe comes together, ”said Harris.

Grizabella sings Lloyd Webber’s most recorded song, “Memory”, about aging, loneliness and happiness.

“It’s Grizabella’s great moment of glory to share her wisdom, but she feels hope and uncertainty. She fades, sings to herself and turns her face to the moonlight, wondering ‘Do they hear me?’ Harris said.

Growing up watching the live-action video version of 1998, Harris and his cousins ​​”drove our parents crazy” by singing “Memory.”

She has since found “Cats” captivating, with “everyone moving with such grace and felinity,” she said.

As the generation that grew up with the musical return to see it with their children, Harris believes the memorable musical retains its feline allure for families today.

“‘Cats’, such a timeless play, has introduced the magic of theater to millions of people,” she said. “It never gets old.”

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In one look

Broadway in Columbus and the Columbus Association for the Performing Arts will present “Cats” at 7:30 pm January 11-13; 8 p.m. January 14; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on January 15; and 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Jan. 16, at the Ohio Theater, 39 E. State St. Masks and proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 test required. Customers are encouraged to use the Bindle recording app. Tickets cost $ 34 to $ 114 at the CBUSArts box office (614-469-0939,

Herman C. Harkins