Entertainment

KC performer finds new life as ‘Cats’ cast member

Cats, one of the biggest hits in theatrical history, is playing Century II Oct. 14-16.
Cats, one of the biggest hits in theatrical history, is playing Century II Oct. 14-16. Courtesy photo

Growing up in the Kansas City suburbs of Olathe and Overland Park, Kaitlyn Davidson spent her childhood jamming to the cast album and worn VHS copy of the musical “Cats.”

By 2007 – after the previous two summers performing for Music Theatre Wichita – she nabbed the role of Victoria (combined with the character Sillabub) for Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera.

And a dozen years later, she returns to the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical – currently on tour and playing Wichita later this month – playing Jellylorum, a practical cat who scolds the kittens when they misbehave.

The American Theatre Guild production kicks off the 2019-2020 season for Broadway in Wichita.

No one is more surprised at the additional lives she has in “Cats” than Davidson herself.

“I honestly thought that was the end of ‘Cats’ for me,” she said of her 2007 incarnation. “I was 20 when I did it at Pittsburgh CLO, and it was one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences I’d had, but I thought it probably wouldn’t happen for me again.”

Her character’s songs, especially “Gus the Theater Cat,” drew her back to the show.

“I connected with the song,” she said in a phone interview from a tour stop in Washington, D.C. “I was excited to just go in and sing the song, and it happens to work out for me.”

Davidson and the “Cats” cast are in the middle of an 18-month tour of the show, which featured new choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler (a Tony Award winner for “Hamilton,” “In the Heights” and “Bandstand”).

“It is very much a refreshed version of the original, which I also loved,” Davidson said.

There are some changes from the original, which set a Broadway record for its 18 years and nearly 7,500 productions and is still the fourth longest-running show on the Great White Way.

“The design is mostly the same, the set is mostly the same,” Davidson said of the revival, which ran for 18 months in 2016-17. “The costumes have been updated a little bit and there’s some new lighting. And you’ll hear some new arrangements, new orchestrations of the songs, but it’s still the same iconic ‘Cats.’

“There will be plenty to recognize and remember from the original,” she added.

For performers her age, Davidson said, “Cats” will always maintain its mystique.

“A lot of us were exposed to it as young people, and there’s just something about it that’s so magical,” she said. “And what’s so amazing about it in our profession is it’s one of the most challenging pieces to do.

“You have to be a triple-threat, you have to be able to dance technically and beautifully, sing really, really well – Andrew Lloyd Webber doesn’t give you a break with his music and arrangements – and you have to be a great actor because you have to tell this story and you have to embody a cat,” Davidson continued. “It literally takes everything you’ve got. I feel a lot of pride to be able to bring that to a new generation of people who haven’t seen ‘Cats.’”

“Cats” will get a different exposure later this year, when a movie version – with cast members including Taylor Swift, James Corden, Judi Dench, Idris Elba and Jennifer Hudson – debuts. The trailer for the movie debuted this summer, with a sea of thumbs-down on the internet.

But Davidson said she and her castmates aren’t concerned about backlash.

“It was such a revolutionary piece of musical theater when it debuted (in 1982). It already has the reputation,” she said. “Shows change from stage to screen — they have to, it’s a different medium. I applaud them for trying to make it happen.

“I’m looking forward to it.”

When the touring production for “Cats” sets down at Century II Oct. 14-16, it will be a return to the Wichita theater for Davidson, who was part of the ensemble for Music Theatre Wichita in 2005-2006, most notably as Christine in “A Chorus Line” and Alice in “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.”

After extensive work as a youth in theater in the KC area, and during summer breaks from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Davidson felt like her first “grownup” roles were at MTW.

“This was my first time venturing out on my own, living on my own and working,” she recalled. “Music Theatre Wichita is such a wonderful organization. So many people from the summers I spent there in the ensemble and the guest artists I still see and I’m still friends with.

“It’s a wonderful professional training ground for a lot of us. And my family loved that it was so close,” she added. “I wasn’t in New York yet.”

‘CATS’

When: 7:30 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, Oct. 14-16

Where: Century II concert hall, 225 W. Douglas

Tickets: $45.50-$95.50, from wichitatix.com and the Century II box office, 316-303-8100

More information: BroadwayWichita.com

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