The North American Tour of “Cats” is presently playing until October 6, 2019, at the John F. Kennedy Center of the Performing Arts. “Cats” which opened on Broadway in 1982 became one of its longest-running shows. It also is considered by many to be a classic musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Webber based the musical on T. S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats,” and indeed, it is Eliot’s words that are the lyrics of Webber’s music. It won seven Tony Awards, including best musical. “Cats” was revived again on Broadway in 2016-17. The new creative team was lead by director Trevor Nunn. This North American Tour production is based on the revival.
If you have never seen a live performance of “Cats,” this is a great chance to see a top-notch professional one here in the Washington, D.C. area. If you have seen any production, you know that each adaptation creates new special memories for the audience. Having seen two professional productions myself, during its first run, I can report each one was visually exciting and different. The music never fails to move you or have you tap your foot.
When a company goes on tour, the director and the designers do not travel along with the company. Instead, for those of you who may not know how most professional groups operate, the Stage Manager takes over much of the day to day operations of the show. In a stationary production, this position includes working with understudies, breaking in replacements, etc., as well as having all the actors make their entrances in time and all the technical cues work in precision. In a touring company, each venue is different. Therefore, the Stage Manager also has the additional responsibilities to make sure changes are made in blocking and choreography to meet the needs of each stage.
The Production Stage Manager for the North American Tour of “Cats” is J. Andrew Blevins.
Blevins has been Productions Stage Manager for several shows: National Tours: “Love Never Dies,” An “American in Paris,” “Motown,” “Ragtime,” “Camelot,” “50 Shades! The Musical.” Regional: Illinois Shakespeare Festival.
I had a chance to interview Mr. Blevins about his own life and his role as Production Stage Manager for “Cats”
- Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I have been involved with theatre since the sixth grade in the small town of Rockton, IL. I spent a lot of my time working backstage at school productions and eventually found myself involved with the community theatre as well. All of those experiences led me to the great theatre program at Illinois State University. Once I graduated, I knew I needed to get out and explore outside of Illinois. So, I hopped on the road and began what is my career now. I have been on the road for longer than I ever could have imagined, and now get the pleasure of sharing the experience with my wife, Samantha, and our shoe-sized Chihuahua Coco. Who is basically a cat, so it works!
- Can you tell our readers what your role is as Stage Manager other than organizing the whole backstage cast and crew, for example, breaking in replacements, working with understudies, making adjustments to different stages and theatres as you tour or any other responsibility you can think of?
With any touring production, moving from location to location always has challenges. My role is to make sure the show looks as ideal as possible no matter where we are. No two theatres are ever the same, so learning how to adapt to each space is an exciting challenge for me. My position has to represent the creative team to ensure we are delivering the same quality of product in each and every city.
- What is your biggest challenge with “Cats?”
Our day to day is a bit different on this particular show. While this show is a bit simpler in the technical aspects, the fact that it’s an intensive dance show makes up the difference. We spend a lot of time working with covers and replacements as we have to be ready for anything! For us to put a new cast member into the show, it can be a 2-4-week process based on our traveling schedule and difficulty of the role. I work very closely with our dance captains and creative team to make sure our show is always prepped and polished!
- Does your cast go into the audience like productions I have seen, and what special problems does that have?
We have plenty of cats going into the aisle and making entrances from front of house. This takes an extra level of planning and coordination with the Front of House staff in each venue. We also have to coordinate how the cast will get onto the stage from the house in every city as stage and seating layouts change more than you would expect. We hold a meeting at the beginning of every city to explain to the cast what the differences are, and even have a large whiteboard that we use to explain the game plan.
- Do you plan on being a Stage Manager for the rest of your career or would you like to try another role in theatre?
I thoroughly enjoy my job, even on the not so great days! I can imagine myself doing this for a little while, but I know eventually my wife and I would like to actually settle down one day for a family of our own. I would love to stay in theatre, but we’ll have to see what path lies ahead for us!
“Cats” will be performed September 17–October 6, 2019, in the Kennedy Center Opera House with 7:30 p.m. performances on Tuesday–Sunday evenings and 1:30 p.m. matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. The week of October 1, there will be an additional 1:30 p.m. matinee on Wednesday, October 2 and no evening performance on Sunday, October 6. For more information, please visit the Kennedy Center website, in-person at the Kennedy Center Box Office, or call (202) 467-4600 or (800) 444-1324.
Thanks to Brendan E. Padgett for his help with this article.