For those seeing Cats for the first time, Matthew Taylor, the actor who plays the part of Rum Tum Tugger, recommends not expecting to see just another musical, but that audiences take the play in as an experience.
“Don’t go into it looking for something, because you won’t find a story that’s simply handed to you” Taylor said. “Instead, think about it like impressionistic art; let the experience wash over you as you find something from each individual character that you can connect with.”
“Rum Tum Tugger is a rebel full of fun and excitement,” Taylor said. “He wants prestige, but the only way to get attention is by acting out. He’s the quintessential rock star.”
There is a character for each member of the audience to relate to no matter their age, gender or place in life, Taylor said. While Rum Tum Tugger seems to be a universal example of a young man learning how far he can push the boundaries, he is also figuring out his own physical and emotional self.
“It’s such an amazing character study into the feline and human psyche,” Taylor said. “It’s not about the animal self, it’s about the pride in where you come from, who you are and what you’ve done in your lives. As an artist, what more can you ask for?”
The cast includes nearly 30 people with players, swings and the band. Taylor is one of only a few returning members from last year’s production. Most of the cast met on the first day of rehearsals in September.
“It’s just a hodge-podge of people,” Taylor said. “We’re a pretty cohesive group and there’s not a lot of drama. From my understanding, this is as good as it gets for group cohesion.
Taylor tried out for the part of Rum Tum Tugger on a whim.
“I came to Cats on a bit of a dare because it is so out of my comfort zone,” Taylor said.
For irony, Taylor stood at his auditions singing “I Can’t Dance,” fully understanding that Cats is a musical with a great deal of movement. After getting the role of Rum Tum Tugger, Taylor realized it was one of the best opportunities that ever came his way.
“I found out my type wasn’t what I thought it was,” Taylor said. “This was an eye opening experience.”
Production for a show of this size, which has been polished after being around for 30 years, is different than other theatres, Taylor said. It’s more efficient. Directors are able to get actors to move as cats would with a specialized rehearsal process including stretches and taking on the physicality and mindset of a cat.
“Act small, hear things and see things, feel you spine,” Taylor said. “We would improv as cats for a long time, which led naturally into choreography practice.
It’s some of the best acting you’ll ever see, Taylor said. Often, people will mention how long Cats has been running and are incredulous that it’s still around.
“I don’t see it going away,” Taylor said. “We are an era that ushered in new ideas. Come see it if you’re skeptical, because you’ll find out you’re seeing a piece of history.”
Cats is playing at the INB Performing Arts Center on April 23-24. Student rush tickets are available at the box office two hours before the play. Each performance is $25 per rush ticket on any available seat with a valid student ID.