A trio of terrific bodies put you through their paces
by Deborah Quilter
he Broadway musical CATS, one of the most strenuous shows currently
playing on the Great White Way, provides a perfect illustration of why
actors need to stay in shape.
Cats enter the stage on all fours, slinking, skidding, creeping, and
leaping. The scenery, a junk-heap of old batteries, tires, and other
refuse of careless humaniods, provides the moonlit site of the sacred “jellicle
ball,” where one of their number will be granted another life by
the cat-king, Old Deuteronomy. For the next two and a half hours, the
actors take turns singing and dancing through 20 numbers, and in between,
dodge discarded bottles that crash to the pavement around their heads;
play chicken with the headlights of oncoming automobiles; go from overhead
rolls into handstands; and, like real-life cats who can never be told
where or where not to go, escape into the audience, crawling along railings
25 feet above the house floor, leering with brilliant eyes at the audience.
The audience peers back in fascination as the cats stretch; lick their
paws; or freeze, fixing their eyes on the cord from another cat’s
costume, then whacking it exactly as a house cat would a window-shade
pull. The performers make everything they do look effortless; but in
fact, every move has an element of danger, the potential for in jury,
There are actually two performances every night at the Winter Garden
Theatre: one that the audience pays to see from the house and another,
in many ways more intriguing, backstage. There, cats do handstands against
a wall, leg-lifts and chin-ups from overhead bars. “Stray” cats,
backstage between numbers, sing along with those performing. They have
a kind of feline watchfulness that keeps them on top of their cues and
ready for the rigors ahead. This concentration also helps protect them
in the treacherous backstage area, where jagged edges of scenery project
into single-file-only passageways, and the walkways are rarely unobstructed.
Navigating corridors is made even more difficult for those actors in
headdresses with the narrowest of slits through which eyes can see.
Despite the acrobatic stunts required of the actors, necessitating cool
nerves and perfect timing, most of the complaints center on the strenuous
choreography; dancing on a raked (slanted) stage; and most of all, the
continuous crawling which strains knees, hips, backs, and shoulders.
And yet, these phenomenal actors/singers/dancers do stay in star shape.
The following “triple threat” workout is performed by three
of the marvelous CATS cast: Brian Sutherland, who plays Alonzo, and Dodie
Pettit and Lily-Lee Wong, two “swings” who understudy for
five different parts each, any of which they might be called on to play,
often at a moment’s notice, should any of the regulars be injured
during a performance.