Two paws up

Broadway classic Cats sashays into Austin for week-long run

Broadway classic Cats sashays into Austin for week-long run

CATS broadway
Two paws up for Cats. Photo by Matthew Murphy

When Dan Hoy was just a kitten ... err, boy ... he became infatuated with Cats (the Broadway production, not the pet). “When I was a kid I watched the VHS tape so many times that I actually broke it,” he reminisces. “To have gone from that to being on the Broadway national tour, it’s really a cool, full-circle moment.”

Hoy, who plays Munkustrap, the narrator of sorts, will channel his inner feline with the rest of the Cats cast beginning May 7 through May 12 at Bass Concert Hall.

If you are unfamiliar with the iconic show, the memorable score was composed by the great Andrew Lloyd Webber, and features a cast of characters who dress, behave, and move like cats. Like most theater productions, Cats goes beyond the paws and whiskers, providing a reflection on humanity and what it means to coexist with people who aren’t like you. “Obviously, it’s a show about cats, but at the core it’s really a piece about humanization,” explains Hoy.

That universal appeal has led to Cats becoming the fourth longest-running Broadway show in history. “People can relate to the story of redemption. And on a much more surface level, it’s wildly entertaining. The choreography is simply fantastic.”

That "fantastic" choreography begins as soon as the curtain lifts. After a two-hour prep time, during which Hoy does his own makeup, fixes his own wig, climbs into his unitard, stretches, and assumes his cat persona, he and the rest of the cast are "shot out of a cannon" with the rousing opening number.

The fresh and unique choreography in this particular production comes courtesy of Andy Blankenbuehler, who you might know as the award-winning choreographer from a little show called Hamilton. As Hoy explains, Blankenbuehler reframed the entirety of the piece using the original Cats choreography as inspiration, but elevating enough so that fans who have seen it before are in for a brand-new experience.

“Audiences will still see those iconic moments they love, but Andy has sort of given it a new life. The choreography is so bombastic and entertaining — it’s a unique experience,” says Hoy. Cats has indeed been one of the most unique experiences on Broadway since its 1982 debut. After all, what other show has a bunch of people dressed in cat suits jumping around the stage?

Hoy says learning how to "be" a cat was a very surreal experience — one that began with four hours of cat improv during which the cast crawled around exploring how cats feel space, how they use their paws, and how they move. He says it was several weeks into the rehearsal process before he stopped falling out of character as a human. “At the end of the day you have to move like a cat or else no one buys it — as much as anyone can buy a human being in a unitard being a cat,” he jokes.

Hoy admits his brain is now engrained with cat-like behaviors and that has occasionally resulted in some awkward off-stage moments in which he ‘gives someone a paw’ (a soft arm while looking at them) or an unusual wave in public. “I was at the airport and saw one of my castmates across the terminal, and I went to wave at them and accidentally gave them what we call a kitty paw wave," he explains. "This random woman came up to me and was like, ‘What the heck was that?’ It’s resulted in some very funny situations.”

While some occasionally find the casts public behavior unusual, many audience members find their onstage performances very inspiring. Hoy (who, by the way, is enjoying his Broadway debut after recently graduating college) says it’s taken him some time to get used to being a role model for young people, but it’s something he’s come to deeply value.

“I’ve had some really amazing moments at the stage door after the show. I love getting to create and perform, but at the end of the day with a show like this, knowing that there are kids in the audience who are going to see it and say, ‘I wanna do that’ — there’s nothing like it.”

So, if you are looking to be entertained (even if you are more of a dog person), catch Cats at Bass during its one-week stint in Austin May 7-12.