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Meow Wow

Based on one of Andrew Lloyd Webber's favorite childhood books, "Cats" proves to have as many lives as its costumed characters while providing plenty of memories.

Gina Conroy
September 28, 2019

Domesticated or stray, each cat is unique in personality, but united in attitude that usually says they’re going to live life on their terms. You either love them or hate them. Or love to hate them. Grumpy, funny, real or cartoon, cats star in memes, comics, and videos. Some have even risen to the ranks of internet sensations.

But no feline collective has had more influence on multiple generations than the Jellicle cats. Based on the 1939 collection of poems in Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Elliot, Cats the musical first debuted in the United States at Broadway’s Winter Garden Theatre in 1982.

Just like the real felines, who are often stereotyped and misunderstood, the unusual premise of the show caught audiences and critics off guard. A Broadway show based on larger-than-life cats strutting, dancing, and singing to the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber with no dialogue between the songs? It didn’t seem to add up to a hit musical. But the combination was magical, enchanting audiences young and old.

Cats mesmerized Broadway audiences for 18 years with a record-breaking run of 7,485 performances and seven Tony Awards including best musical. Besides playing on Broadway, Cats has been seen by over 73 million people worldwide in over 30 countries and 15 languages.

After closing on Broadway in 2000, the Cats revival debuted in 2016, then went on tour with new choreography, direction, and sound design, reborn for a new generation.

“It’s the same message, the same music, but the choreography has a bit of a new spark and a different life to it,” says Brandon Michael Nase, who plays Old Deuteronomy and considers it an honor to get to bring the role to life again on the revival tour.

The story follows the Jellicle tribe on the most sacred night of the year. Old Deuteronomy, the leader of the tribe, must choose one cat to ascend to the Heaviside Layer to be reborn into a new life. Each cat presents its unique personality and story, in song and dance, to convince their wise leader why they should be chosen. As each cat tries to prove his or her self-worth, a more prominent theme shines bright.

Underneath the purring, prancing, and preening, Cats tells the story of one cat’s fall from grace and her tribe’s decision whether to welcome her back into the fold.

Cats is really about Grizabella trying to gain acceptance back into the tribe,” says Nase. “They feel she’s not worthy of being part of their tribe and so it becomes a story about forgiveness.”

This story of redemption, told in such a creative and engaging way, might be the biggest reason why this musical has had nine lives.

“You move through life and look back at the choices and decisions you made,” says Nase. “You want that moment of acceptance and redemption and forgiveness so you can start over and start new. I think that’s at the core of why it has survived.”

Best known for the song “Memory” performed by Grizabella, this beloved musical is bringing back memories for the old and creating new ones for the young.

“It’s funny to hear people say they have memories of seeing this show in the ‘80s, hearing Betty Buckley singing ‘Memory,’” says Nase. “And now they are taking their kids and grandkids to see the show.”

As a father, Nase knows how precious these memories can be and looks forward to making his memories with his young children.

“As the only member of the cast with children it’s been a challenge being away from home,” says Nase. “It’s very, very hard being away from my children, to be living at a hotel, and having to pack up every two to three weeks.” But he counts himself lucky to be on tour, something most actors hope to do at least once in their lifetime.

While on tour playing the part of the leader of the tribe, Nase is discovering the kind of father he wants to be. “Old Deuteronomy is a gracious, humble, and loving leader. If he has to correct someone, he does it through his language and his voice,” says Nase. “He lets people stumble and learn from their mistakes, but also shows that whenever you fall, I’m going to be there; not to say I told you so, but to say, maybe next time we should do it this way. That’s 100% the kind of parent I want to be.”

Traditionally, Old Deuteronomy is played by African American men, and Nase says it’s an honor to follow people like Brian Blessed and Ken Page in the role. As a father, it hasn’t been a significant leap for Nase to play the leader of the tribe. But he also sees his role and position in the industry as a way to give back to younger people of color.

“I want to be there for the younger African American actors and actresses to help them maneuver the business,” says Nase. He tries to be present in the theater community for African American males who are coming into the world of theater after graduation and realizing they may be pigeonholed and told “these are the roles you play. And everything else is the luck of the draw.”

“I think it’s important for those coming up in the business to say, ‘Yes I’m an African American, and it’s such a unique lens to look through, but there are other roles that can be seen through my lens,’” says Nase. “It’s a hard business for everyone. It’s especially difficult for people of color. Things are moving in a great direction, and we are making strides, but we still have a long way to go.”

To date, Cats holds the honor of the fourth-longest-running Broadway show and continues its unprecedented success on tour across America.  

“Every single person who has seen the show before says they’ve never seen it like this,” says Nase. “It’s new and yet still holds so much truth and stays so close to the original. The changes are so slight, but they add a spark to the production and the storytelling.”

Tulsa Performing Arts Center
110 E. 2nd St. | Tulsa
Oct. 9: 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 10: 1 p.m., 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 11: 8 p.m.
Oct. 12: 2 p.m., 8 p.m.
Oct. 13: 1 p.m., 6:30 p.m.