Famed Broadway musical, nearly 30 years old, comes to Portland with new cast of characters

The musical 'Cats' hasn't experienced all nine of its lives, yet, but it's getting there.

'That's the funny thing with this show, it's been around so long, it's the definitive production of our time,' says Jason Wise, a 20-year-old, first-time cast member who plays 'Tumblebrutus' in the epic touring Broadway show. 'People in it and doing it, half of us weren't alive when it opened on Broadway. We're the ones in charge of keeping it alive. A lot of us grew up fans.'

Indeed, it hasn't become a tired, old Broadway show because many people around the globe haven't had the pleasure of watching the thing, yet. 'Cats' will be in Portland for eight shows, March 23-28 at Keller Auditorium, 222 S.W. Clay St.

It usually plays before packed audiences.

Still sanctioned by originator Andrew Lloyd Webber, 'Cats' appeared in British theatre for 21 years, culminating in 2002, and 18 years on Broadway until 2000. Its record as Broadway's longest running show was eclipsed by 'The Phantom of the Opera,' but it still ranks second.

'I don't think there's pressure (to perform), but when rehearsing, you work hard to get things right,' Wise says. 'It's been around so long, people have seen it before.'

Three of the original members, including current director/choreographer Richard Stafford, work on the play, but none of them perform on stage. Still, it has helped with the continuity of the musical, Wise says. The national tour runs through the summer.

Wise graduated from the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York, worked on an off-Broadway show and then appeared in Disney/Pixar's stage production of 'Toy Story -The Musical.' Then he auditioned for 'Cats' and got more work. 'I got lucky, I've been pretty busy,' he says.

It takes some research to learn a part for 'Cats.' Wise finds himself observing the movements of cats, learning how to mimic them.

'Most of us are cat lovers,' he says. 'Especially after working on the show, you have a growing appreciation for them.

'The challenge is, aside from what we sing in the show, we're not allowed to speak,' he says. 'You have to show you're afraid, scared or excited without talking. It's really kind of interesting. … I love my character. Because I'm a gymnast, it's fun to get paid to flip around stage and walk on my hands every night. And, I get the last bow in the show, which is funny, because I'm not a star. They want to end the show with a tumbling pass, so that's really fun to do every night.'

Tickets for 'Cats' are $18.25 to $63.25, and can be purchased through Ticketmaster (1-800-982-2787) and Portland Opera Box Office (1-866-739-6737). It's brought to Portland - it'll be 'Cats' fourth appearance here - by the Fred Meyer Broadway Across America.

The show recently played at Pantages Theater in Los Angeles with a red-carpet opening.

'After 30 years, the show still sells out,' says Wise, who saw 'Cats' at an early age while living in upstate New York. 'People who saw it when they were kids are now bringing their kids. It's become a huge family show.'

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