Singer and actor John Jacob Lee was just a twinkle in his parents’ eyes when Andrew Lloyd Webber’s groundbreaking musical, Cats, premiered on London’s West End in 1981. Today, nearly 30 years later, the young performer is touring the country in the iconic show that stops this week at West Palm Beach’s Kravis Center for the Performing Arts.“Doing a show with so much history has meant a lot for me as a performer,” he reflects. “To be a part of something that means so much to so many people is amazing. The show is still relevant and important in the genre of musical theater and continues to draw people who might not normally come to the theater.”Lee, a 26-year-old Missouri native, stars as Skimbleshanks, the railway cat, his favorite character whom he describes as “everybody’s favorite uncle, who takes care of the other cats, protects the kittens and is a friend to all.”
“I approach the role differently than other actors,” Lee explains. “He was always my favorite and I’m glad I get to play a cat who can be really silly with the kittens. Plus, he’s orange—really orange.”
The young actor, who got his big break with the touring company of The Wedding Singer, which played in Fort Lauderdale several years ago, supposes landing the role was fate. Lee got his first professional callback for a role in Cats after a casting agent had seen him in another show.
“I kept coming back over the years for repeated auditions and figured at some point I would eventually get a part in the show,” he says. “When they finally called and told me I got it, I guess it was finally my time.”
He soon began rehearsals and learned that the biggest challenge wasn’t donning the complex costumes and perfecting the make-up: “I think the biggest challenge is keeping your body healthy. It’s a very, very physical show. Cats move differently from people and it’s a challenge eight times a week to pull off the illusion. The make-up and unitards are a breeze after all that.”
While it’s not uncommon to greet fans who have seen the show as many as 20 times over the years, Lee says this tour should not be missed. Almost immediately after its West End and Broadway launches, touring companies were sent to all corners of the globe, and many of the productions adopted special “touches” that were intended to play well to local audiences. Next year, in observance of the show’s anniversary, producers plan to finally homogenize the productions into the definitive version.
“Some of the stuff we’re doing—like an opera section in Act 2—may not make it into the final version,” he warns, “so don’t miss this opportunity to see this production.” But he also acknowledges, “The show is now and forever, and it’s not going away.
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats
Tuesday, June 22 to Sunday, June 27
Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, West Palm Beach
Tickets start at $20 at 1-800-572-8471 or Kravis.org/Cats