Excerpts From Another Cat's Diary : Chapter Nine : Magical Cats, Mysterious Dragons, and Guards Old & New
If you care to read or listen from the beginning click here.
This chapter includes adult language.
Again, this is one chapter for the entire week.
It’s now the fifth week of rehearsal. And this week contains the halfway point in our journey to opening night.
Pressure is building.
Here we go…
Cats : Day Twenty-Eight of Rehearsal
Monday, June 27th, 2016
34 DAYS TO OPENING
Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride
10:00 am - 1:30 pm, Studio 7A, FULL CAST, work-through
EXTENDED EXCERPT : To The Edge Of The Map
Today is 10-6 and we start the day running the show. Trevor and ALW are here. So is Nick Scandalios. And Nina Lannan.
Is this first time I’ve mentioned Nina?
Nina is our Executive Producer and a founding partner of Bespoke Theatricals, the management company for Cats.
You want a nice long scroll on IBDB? Head on over there and look her up. I’ll wait.
Are you there? Scroll, scroll, scroll to the very bottom of the page and you’ll find her first Broadway credit:
Nina Lannan, Assistant Company Manager, Cats, October 7, 1982, Winter Garden Theater.
In other words, this is not Nina’s first trip to the junkyard. She has been living with Cats for nearly thirty-four years. So the only people who have seniority over her in this room are Trevor and Lord Webber, both of whom were armed with pens and pads for this rehearsal.
I still need to do some woodshedding on the opening choreography I have as Peter. It can’t be more than thirty-two bars of actual dance if that. I just need to freaking learn it. I’m clearly in denial that I’m even in the opening.
In Week five.
Never underestimate the power of the mind to deny reality. Especially an actor’s mind.
Bustopher was better this time than during Saturday’s run—which I hated —and I actually got that first step right.
Still don’t have an ending that I like. He—Andy—really hasn’t given me a real step for the soft shoe break at the end so I’m just faking something.
And totally dodging out of the button, which tells me that I’m protecting myself. If I don’t really commit, then when it’s cut, I’ll have been—right!
I knew it was going to be cut all along.
And being right is a version of being safe and we all know how much I like that feeling.
Gus was ok. A bit manufactured. I was in my head about a now wide-awake Trevor watching and ALW seeing it for the first time. Tried to just hunker down and be responsible to Gus and forget the rest. Only minor success there.
Pekes & Polls was pretty good as far as getting from thing to thing. Tried to add age back into Rumpus, particularly at the oven entrance, as noted on Saturday by Andy. And that felt right. I mean, I miss leaping out of the oven, but Andy is entirely right about sticking to the story we’re telling and how we’re telling it.
There’s work for me to do in terms of pleasing myself in getting the trajectory right for Gus. From his odd book-ended presence at the Jellicle Ball to his coming on with the tribe at the top of Act II through the “Gus” number and continuing on into and through “Pekes And Pollicles.”
I don’t have my staging yet for coming back on at the end of the show. I think Gus is usually present for Griz’s final entrance and the “Up, Up, Up” section, but we haven’t done that bit yet.
Maybe later today?
I still like the idea that Gus dies this night. That revisiting his performance as The Great Rumpus Cat is his own little supernova and soon after he just… burns out. My preference, for lazy actor reasons and dramaturgical ones, is that Gus would never come back after Pekes & Polls. He’d just slink away and you’d never see him again.
You know. Just like old cats do.
Not bloody likely in this production. Ah, well.
I’ve been writing all of this inside the trunk (what the Brits call the boot) of the giant car while the show carries on above me. We come to the end of Misto’s solo and Andy calls out,
“Hold! Great work guys, let’s take five.”
After “Mistoffelees” comes the section of the show that’s yet to be staged.
The edge of the map.
Beyond here be dragons
Very sensible to take five before facing dragons.
EXCERPT : After The Run
We’re back from break and into notes from the morning’s run:
First Ellenor works a dance note from Skimbleshanks on its feet then paper notes continue led by Ellenor, Kristen & William, and Chrissie.
Where are the executives? Andy? ALW? Trevor? Nick? Nina?
Is it a pleasant meeting they’re in?
Or a slap fight?
Orrrrrrr, something in-between?
BULLET POINTS : SOME PAPER NOTES
- DANCE, Ellenor : Whip the arms for claw-downs after “dive through the air, on a flying trapeze”
- MUSIC, William : Gurr “sit on his thrown”, slightly behind
- MUSIC, Kristen : increase the tension on “Because Jellicles are and Jellicles do…”
- MUSIC, Kristen : feeling together for “…who do —— what ——…”
- DANCE, Chrissie models the physical attitude of I’m a very strange cat for Cassandra’s “Were you there when the pharaohs commissioned the sphinx?”
- DANCE Chrissie : Struts are not to be shared, they are about personal pride.
- DANCE Ellenor : At end of naming have feet ready for move to out-stage on Munkustrap’s name
- DANCE Chrissie : Palm down for “hypocritical cats” step to SR and left elbow out and up
- MUSIC Kristen : “but I tell you (comma) a cat needs a name that’s particular…”
- DANCE Ellenor : Bustopher make more eye contact with the kittens. Make it all for them.
- William saves the day by having clearly notated in the score—on the fly—the second Macavity, move, freeze, look, go.
- Chrissie noting Old D’s entrance : “It’s one of the events of the show that’s gentle, beautiful, and sensitive.”
EDITORIAL NOTE :
I’ve got things to say about that, and about her having to say that, and about this production, and about… Well, I’ve got things to say. But they’ll have to wait for the book.
I will say this, though, about when Chrissie demonstrates any kind of felinity—
It’s pretty great.
I have this reoccurring thought that when she leaves New 42 at night, walks west on 42nd Street, turns the corner onto 8th Aveneue to head north, before she gets to 43rd there’s a bit of a blur and she’s no longer there and—suddenly—a cat is.
You know, like Professor McGonagall in the Harry Potter books.
I am fully convinced that’s what happens every night.
I can only think of one other person I’ve ever met about whom I thought the exact same thing and he happens to be in our cast:
Totally a cat just pretending to be a person. I’m convinced.
A very hot cat.
END EDITORIAL NOTE
Chrissie talks about the particulars of listening to Munkustrap and then hearing and listening to Tugger.
“The physical position you’re going to find for the lift/suspension on ‘sits in the sun’—make everything the result of listening.”
Make everything the result of listening.
That’s just a great note on acting, period.
Not a shabby note for life, come to think of it.
1:30 pm - 2:30 pm LUNCH
2:30 pm - 6:00 pm, Studio 7A, FULL CAST, Staging End of Show
EXCERPT : Riding With The Toad
Post lunch there was new music in the folders. I didn’t get to it right away but gathered from Ricky Todd that I’d been cut from the vocal of Pekes & Polls.
And I, in a matter of seconds, raced through the Seven Stages Of Ego Death And Grief.
I won’t go into detail on that, now. Perhaps later.
But, at the end of that nasty Mister-Toad’s-wild-psychological-ride I was ready to just do my spoken bit and quietly dread whatever staging was coming my way.
Then, with the new ink—which is really, now I see, a throw back to some very, very old ink—KB starts ripping through some write-in divisions of the lyric, starting with me!
“Stop!” I said.
I wasn’t ready. No pencil. And, frankly, I’d left the room—metaphorically and metaphysically—and was just now stepping back in.
“I’m sorry—hold on!”
I nearly said, you’re going too fast, but that’s Q’s line and—well….
That’s Q’s line.
“Sorry. My mind’s just a little blown by the new ink and now, well, NOT the new ink.”
She smiled up at me as if to say,
“Welcome to my world, mister.”
Fair enough. Fair enough.
Then a new (really old?) big choral section is taught at the end.
It’s screaming. It’s HIGH! The sopranos are shattering every window and the tenors are melting every face. Then we sing down the whole number. Or do I mean up?
The new key at the top for Gus’ first lyric is much higher, which I dig. It’s more an old man’s flutey sound. Makes more sense coming out of Gus’ mouth right after “And I once played the Rumpus Cat…”
So we sing it down/up, and Andy/Trevor/ALW confab and kibitz and suggest this and change that and I’m given another line to sing as Rumpus which sits a little low but, ALW says—in my very first direct address from his Lordship (in week five),
“…Just, so, flip it up the octave for the second half…”
And I do.
And it’s very Cyril Ritchard as Capt. Hook, so—as the kids say (at least in this, the summer of 2016 )—I ain’t mad at that.
Part of my quick trip through the it’s-gone-no-it’s-not thing included feeling—again—that I’d failed Andy.
He had told me that he really had to sell this new use of Rumpus to the boys really hard. He’d even said to me before we played it for Trevor and Andrew,
“This is important.”
Great. Thank you, Andy. That’s just what you want to hear before doing your big number for the composer.
So, when I was thinking that they’d gone entirely back to the old version, I was also thinking,
“I didn’t make it work. Andrew and Trevor saw it and heard it and didn’t like it. Fuck. I’ve let Andy down. Completely. Fuck.”
I was actually in the midst of crafting my apology conversation with Andy—I do like to mentally rehearse a conversation—when Kristen started whipping through those changes in the lyric assignments.
That’s probably why I snapped a bit. It was ego whiplash.
Now, from Trevor,
“Lovely job, you’re going great. I want to get some time with you and Jelly on Gus—“
Me, “Yes, please!”
Him, “You know, to add in some details, but it’s just lovely. Also, Gus as Rumpus… He can be more Grand, very—“
He throws back his head and does a plummy actor voice,
God damn, this has been a down and up day. Gotta say, I like ending up.
Cats : Day Twenty-Nine of Rehearsal
Tuesday, June 28th, 2016
33 DAYS TO OPENING
And therefore, and THEREFORE…!
9:30 am, Studio 7A, Fauré, Mitchell, Smith, “Macavity,” dance
10:30 am, Studio 7A, add Camp, Gooden, Granell, Mitchell, Pazcoguin, Pynenburg, Rosario, Tate, “Macavity” cont.
10:30 am, Studio 7B, Adams, Ford, Hendy, Gurr, Morgan, Ort, “Gus” staging
10:30 am, Studio 7C, Ubeda, music
11:30 am, Studio 7C, add Adams, Albano, Bausilio, Bergmann, Darrington, Davis, Gaymon, Gurr, Hanes, Krouse, LeProtto, Milgrim, Morgan, Simmons, Snide, Williams
EXCERPT : MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD!!!
This morning the avant garde have claimed Studio A, the Old Guard have hunkered down in Studio B, and in Studio C the diplomats of the music department are doing what diplomats do: minding the gaps.
I am with the Old Guard: Trevor and Chrissie
Pretty successfully stayed in the mind-set of I’m-just-an-actor-working-with-a-director while a good back-third of my brain was jumping up and screaming,
“OH MY GOD I’M WORKING WITH TREVOR NUNN OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD!!!”
And it was a full tilt, language rehearsal, just like you’d wish for with Trevor Nunn.
Making a meal of it.
If John Barton himself had walked into Studio B, I wouldn’t have been at all surprised. Well, perhaps a bit since Barton has been dead a while now. But my being in a room with John Barton would be about on par with my being in a room with Trevor Nunn, and that’s happening, soooooo…
You just never know.
You really don’t.
1:30 pm - 2:30 pm LUNCH
EXCERPT : Tiny Bubbles
During lunch down in the green room on the fifth floor there are reports of… unkindness and “rudeness” even from—break my heart—Chrissie during the “Macavity” rehearsal with the women.
“I’m very upset,” she’d said.
She said—I take it—more than that.
She was expressing in no uncertain terms—by all accounts—her displeasure with the women, what they were doing, and how they were doing it.
I suspect Chrissie just finally let a little of what she’s been suppressing this entire time pop out.
She is the keeper of Cats. She is responsible to… whom? Gillian? Trevor? Andrew? The greater good??? I can’t imagine.
I still contend that her’s is the hardest position in the room. Professionally and personally. I’m surprised we’ve made it this far without her popping a lot more. I credit her English-ness.
But it’s not just her.
Time—and I’m thinking here of capital T Time as John Barton would say it:
—yes, Time has finally caught up with us. It has reared its scary, scaly head all the way to seventh floor of New 42nd Street and it is peering in at us through the enormous windows.
And with that pressure coming down on us, little bubbles of anxiety are rising up. In the greenroom, in the hallways, in the studios, among the cast, among the creatives. Little bubbles.
They are tiny.
But they’re here.
I’d been wondering. And waiting…
Cats : Day Thirty of Rehearsal
Wednesday, June 29th, 2016
32 DAYS TO OPENING
More New Ink, Knowing One’s Place, And Some Good Advice
10:00 am - 1:30 pm, FULL CAST
1:30 pm, lunch
2:30 pm - 6:00 pm, FULL CAST
It’s a 10-6 day with TBD listed on both the early and late blocks. Individual wig and makeup calls are scattered throughout and the promise of a Foy theater visit as well. For those who will fly in the show
EXCERPT : There’s No Earthly Way Of Knowing When The Ink Will Cease It’s Flowing
Yep. There’s new ink in the mailboxes this morning. We start on our feet with the transition from “Gumby” into “Tugger” and through that number, which I’m not in.
I take my score out into the hall, make a cup of coffee, sit on the floor and spend some time conducting myself through the new pages.
Ah! Yet another version of “Bustopher”, now using the “season of venison” lyric instead of the “senior educational” lyric. It helps the what-the-hell-is-he-talking-about problem. Now I start in right in with food and drink.
And, it could work with the two club staging that’s already in place. I suppose. But, given how specific Andy’s been so far, I doubt he’ll leave it be.
I hope he won’t.
The other bit of new music is the top of “Pekes and Pollicles.” Hm. Looks pretty much like what I sang yesterday.
Mmm… They haven’t added back the “participation” snippet.
I’m scrubbing the rhythms which, I think, are slightly different than yesterday and I pull Kristen over to ask about it.
“At the top here, yesterday, I know I was singing this pick-up as two eighths, but, here, it’s—“
“Yes, it was two eights, but Andrew wants—wait. Well, this is wrong. This is—
She turn the page over.
“—it’s not even in the right key. I’m going to have to text RUG…”
And off she hurries down the hall. I can almost see little animated music notes swirling behind her.
It is difficult to fully appreciate the size and scope of a music department’s work during the mounting of a Broadway musical. And this is a Broadway musical with an enormous back catalog of various productions and years of running here, in the West End, and around the world. Changes large and small have happened over the life of this piece and, for this revival, that evolution has kicked into a gear that I imagine is second only to the process of mounting it in the first place.
I do not envy the music team’s task.
EXCERPT : Don’t Swerve
Working the entrance of Griz after the ball, over and over, tighten up moves from Andy and intentions and story from Trevor (really, both doing both as it should be) and—apropos of what, I don’t know—Sara Ford standing next to me says,
“You know what you’re really good at?”
Well, I love any sentence that starts like that.
I mean, ego, ego, EGO.
“You’re really good at staying in your own lane.”
“Yes. That’s one of my best tricks.”
Staying in your own lane. It’s a term I only learned once I was in commercial theatre, which was well into my forties. I can’t remember exactly who first used it in front of me but I’ve decided to give credit to Deirdre Goodwin.
It’s a great piece of advice for working in a highly social and cooperative workplace, particularly a creative and collaborative and competitive one. Such as theatre.
SIDE BAR : Three Good Pieces of Advice
1) Choose to be the happiest person on set. Every day.
2) Never be the one they’re waiting on. Ever.
3) Stay in your lane. Always.
Bonus Piece of Advice
4) Get a nap in in the afternoon.
I love that last one. It is attributed to Sir John Gielgud. Sounds right.
Cats : Day Thirty-one of Rehearsal
Thursday, June 30th, 2016
31 DAYS TO OPENING
The Halfway Point
9:30 am, Studio 7B, Camp, Fauré, Granell, Mitchell, Smith, “Macavity,” dance
10:00 am, Studio 7B, add Gooden, Pazcoguin, Pynenburg, Rosario, Tate, “Macavity,” cont.
10:30 am, Studio 7A, Albano, Bausil—
No, this can’t be right.
But it is.
It’s yesterday morning all over again.
9:30 am, Studio 7B, Camp, Fauré, Granell, Mitchell, Smith, “Macavity,” dance
10:00 am, Studio 7B, add Gooden, Pazcoguin, Pynenburg, Rosario, Tate, “Macavity,” cont.
10:30 am, Studio 7A, Albano, Bausilio, Bergmann, Gaymon, Jones, Milgrim, Simmons, Snide, Williams, “Macavity Fight,” dance
11:30 am, FULL CAST (sans Gurr and Lewis), work TBD
1:30 pm LUNCH
2:30 pm - 6:30 pm, Studio 7A, FULL CAST, work TBD
Afternoon Session and my first call of the day.
BULLET POINTS :
- A lot of paper notes, which don’t apply to me.
- Macavity fight work and Clancy just beating the crap out of the djembe! Something to behold.
- Going back to reexamine McCavity still more. There were some aggressive changes in rhythms that ALW did or didn’t like so we’re re-working it.
- Andy, to the music corner, “Not that note, THAT note!” He’s asking for the 5th to be repeated in the orchestration, as opposed to the root. He’s shopping for tension. Ohhhh, I dig him.
EXCERPT : “Thrive and Beam!”
Leaving Studio A to head into B for more notes on and more running of the ball, there is a man standing in the hallway. Never seen him before, but I meet his eyes and smile.
I don’t think anyone else sees him.
Of course they don’t. He’s older than I am and even I started to fade away a good ten years ago.
Wait. You’ll see.
I’m just finding a spot to hide in Studio B when Claire approaches.
Oh, no. A dance note. Shit. Fear. Don’t show it. Dancers and horses: they can smell fear.
She lays her hand on my arm and whispers,
“Ira says there’s someone in the hall for you.”
Oh. Hm. For me?
Then there’s Ira at the door, waving me out into the hall.
“There’s an introduction I’d like to make. This—“
He’s says gesturing to the mystery man in the hall,
“—Is Stephen Han—“
“Oh, my god! Stephen Hanan! Hello! Wow! Oh! May I hug you?”
He looks surprised and pleased.
So I did. I hugged him mightily. Not the gentle sort of hug I’d been passing out willy-nilly to our creative team.
No, I gave him a big old sqeeeeeeze.
He squeezed right back.
Stephen Hanan created the roles of Bustopher, Gus, and Growltiger in the original Broadway company back in 1982.
Stephen Hanan also wrote the only account of that (or any) production of Cats that I could find when looking for books to buy in preparation for this production. But, since I knew I was keeping this journal—my journal—I have yet to read his.
I say so.
“I have your book in my bag, but I haven’t read it.”
Mr. Hanan, “Not many have.”
Ira and I laugh.
I don’t tell him why I haven’t read it. Exactly. Instead, I say,
“I wanted to wait until we get to the point in our process where you stop writing—“
Him, “That’s opening night.”
Me, “Right. Then I’ll read it.”
I didn’t mention that I was trying to write a book as well. And I’m a little ashamed of that. I didn’t want to—forgive me—let that particular cat out of the bag in front of Ira, or, really, anyone in the company.
I have told Andy Jones. When he and I went to pick out our suits for opening, he and his wife, Audrey, and my friend Ben Mason and I went to post-retail brunch. I told him then. He immediately, and wisely, brought up Jeffrey Denmens’s book about The Producers.
Just the mention of it have me pause. And not the kitty-cat kind.
It is received wisdom on the street that Denman may have burned some bridges with that book.
And, yet, here I am. Still keeping a journal.
But I didn’t want a lot of people to know. And, for whatever reason, I really didn’t want Stephen Hanan to know.
Weird. But there it is.
Standing with him there in the hall a dreadful thought occurs to me and my heart drops.
“Are you here to watch—?”
Oh, god, please, say you’re not. Ira interrupts my panic,
“He’s here to see Trevor.”
Of course, and THEREFORE, right on cue, the elevator doors open and here’s Trevor. He immediately clocks Stephen and flaps ups his arms and shakes his great mane and widens his eyes in joy,
“Well! Look! Stephen!”
And he looks at me,
“Look who it is!”
“I know! I know…!” I say.
Should I leave them? Or… I’m shifting my weight to exit stage left and suddenly I’m snagged by Trevor and in a three-way hug with him and Stephen.
I mean, come on! How did I get here?
Out of the hug, I make my excuses,
“I need to get back into rehearsal. So great to meet you! Please come back again.”
And, as I head into Studio B, Trevor calls out to me,
“Please, PLEASE promise me you’ll never be as outrageous as Stephen was in the role!”
“Over time…? I can make no promises,” and I join the ball already in progress.
A bit later Trevor pops in, spots me in the back of room and comes over.
In hushed and twinkly tones, he says,
“You know, I was in correspondence with Stephen for years afterwards and he always signed his letters, ‘THRIVE AND BEAM!’”
“‘Thrive and beam…’”
and away he slips.
Thrive and beam. That’s right up there with the grand-theatrical-slash-crunchy-hippie watch cry “Share the Refulgence” for those of you who enjoy an really obscure Bill Ball/Bay Area theatre reference.
“THRIVE AND BEAM!”
Maybe I should just go ahead and read the damn book.
EXCERPT : Those Who Come Before Us
Still glowing from meeting Stephen, I sat along the mirror in Studio B and watched the ball from the front for the very first time.
More than once I teared up.
It’s so damn good. Beautiful, witty, sexy, sometimes thrilling, always amazing. And these dancers are giving it their all.
We are exactly at the halfway point of the our process. There are thirty-one days behind us and thirty-one days in front of us.
Until opening night, that is.
There are only sixteen days until our first preview.
Our first audience.
We are working on a legendary piece. With a lot of history. And a lot of baggage. And folks will be viewing us with a lot of prejudice and possessiveness and… opinions.
We had better be ready.
Cats : Day Thirty-two of Rehearsal
Friday, July 1st, 2016
30 DAYS TO OPENING
FIRST DAY IN THE THEATER NOT THE FIRST DAY IN THE THEATER
10:00 am, Studio 7A, FULL CAST (sans Lewis and Gurr)
11:30 am, Studio 7A, add Gurr
EXCERPT : His Drug Of Choice
Studio 7A, meaning not in the theatre. Still at New 42. And I’m called later than the rest of the company.
I step off the elevator on the 7th floor at 11:05 for my 11:30 call.
Never be the one they’re waiting on.
There’s Jen Rogers and Emma loitering in the hall.
“I was just thinking of you.”
“So….. Trevor and Chrissie are in A with the cast putting the original ‘The Naming of Cats’ back in.”
My eyebrows hit the ceiling. The ceiling fourteen feet above my head.
It has begun.
Jennifer, in perfect political stage managerial tone continues,
“Andy and Ellenor are in B working something out—“
Or having a drink, I think. Or a laugh, I hope.
“—So, Ricky’s in there for you…”
Thanks be for Ricky Todd Adams.
I take a deep breath and say,
“Well, I’m going to take a moment before heading in there.”
“Take your time.”
I need to give some thought to these words. The words of the poem. In the original version the whole tribe speaks the whole poem. I only know the lines that were assigned to me in Andy’s wonderful new, now old, staging.
I’m also disappointed that I missed the event of the change being announced to the company. I’m sure that was interesting. So, I just sort of just freeze in the hallway, in my street clothes, my bag still over my shoulder. When I walk into A, I will be walking into the kind of rehearsal that I assumed—before we started—would be the entire rehearsal process; namely, a not-entirely-delightful tug-of-war between the new and old guards of the show.
My heart takes a little dip.
So we do that. And there’s crispness in the space.
And the ten minute break is suspiciously quiet.
And there are murmured confabs between company members.
Then, Andy B.—I am continually amazed—wades into a reworking of “Tugger” and could not be in a better more playful mood.
What is he on?
Whatever it is, I want life’s supply.
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