Claire Blakely 

performing in CATS: The Musical

Schnitzer Hall, 1037 SW Broadway, 790-2787, March 23-25 7:30 pm (plus 2 pm on March 25), March 26 1 and 6:30 pm, $15-55

Some time in the late '70s, Andrew Lloyd Weber read T.S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats and had a vision. "I shall take these wonderful literary felines," thought Weber, giggling with glee, "and I will make a musical out of them. 'Twill be called Cats, and 'twill feature HUMANS playing CATS... ON THE STAGE!!" Decades later, the touring production of CATS brings the musical to Portland for its 25th year in existence, making it the longest-running show in Broadway history. In celebration of its momentous success, we caught up with current cast member Claire Blakely. She plays a CAT... ON THE STAGE!!!

Hello there, Claire. Mind telling us a bit about your role as Grizabella the Glamour Cat?

Grizabella started in the Jellicle Tribe, then left with dreams of fame and grandeur. But she ran into hard times. [In the play,] she comes back to the tribe sort of down on her luck, and the cats turn their back on her for most of the show. And then she finally is able to get her message out through the song "Memory," and everyone understands and accepts her back.

Do you try to sound like a cat when you sing your songs?

No. A big part of our show is the meeting of cats and humans, so there's no meowing or caterwauling in the singing.

That's very sad. What about purring?

Um, I think there's some purring that goes on stage, but none of it's miked.

I read you... "un-miked purring." Yes, indeed. It helps to "get into character," doesn't it?

Yeah, we're just keeping it real. Keeping it exciting.

God, that's hot. What about moving like a cat onstage? How do you get that going?

It's letting your movements go from your back all the way to the ends of your limbs; learning how to respond to having a tail, and ears on top of your head.

Are there any cat-related exercises that you do to warm up for each performance?

If you're asking if we play with yarn balls and lick ourselves... that's not part of it.

That's tremendously unfortunate. Was being a lover of cats a prerequisite to act in the show?

I think it was the opposite way around. I haven't been around cats in my life. My mom's allergic and my dad doesn't like them. But I think doing the show made me fall in love with cats.

That's beautiful.

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