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As ‘CATS’ national tour prepares to land on its feet in Fresno, a conversation with cast member Lauren Louis

The national tour of Fresno Lexus Broadway in Fresno’s “CATS” makes a two-night stop at the Saroyan Theatre, opening Tuesday, Oct. 26. It is the first tour to play the city since the pandemic began. Here’s a conversation with cast member Lauren Louis:

Pictured above:Lauren Louis, left, as Demeter, Chelsea Nicole Mitchell as Bombalurina, and the company of the 2021-2022 national tour of ‘CATS.’ Photo: Matthew Murphy

The role: Demeter, a troubled and skittish Jellicle cat best known for her duet with Bombalurina in “Macavity the Mystery Cat.” Lauren Louis also is understudying the role of Grizabella the Glamour Cat.

The costume: Think yellow. Which is a good fit, because “yellow is my favorite color,” Louis says.

The tour: It picks off where the last national tour abruptly ended because of Covid. It started in Rochester, New York. When I speak to Louis a couple of weeks before Fresno’s Oct. 26 opening, the show is in Las Vegas (and will move on to Spokane before settling in at the Saroyan Theatre for a two-night run.) She’s been on the road with this new cast for a month or so, having visited a lot of the Midwest (Iowa, South Dakota, etc.).

The production: It’s based on the 2014 London revival (which later moved to Broadway). The updates from the original production mostly have to do with new choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler throughout the show, featuring more hip hop dance styles and “Gaga Movement.” But it’s still firmly rooted in Gillian Lynne’s original choreography. “It’s a beautiful combination of Gillian and Andy’s work,” Louis says.

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The prep: Louis bumped up against some big names early in the rehearsal process. Chrissie Cartwright, who was Lynne’s assistant, and Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber himself popped up. The cast went through “Kitty Boot Camp” in which actors paced about the room acting nervous, scared, sensual, etc.

The actor: Louis grew up in Tracy and went to Cal State Fullerton in musical theater. She always wanted to be in “CATS.” At age 12, she saw it at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco and was hooked. “I would run that old 1980 VHS tape dry with my sisters,” she says. “For my first national tour to be ‘CATS’ is to really come full circle.”

The Fresno connection: Growing up, she was on a competitive dance team. The finals were held at the Saroyan Theatre. It seemed so big to her back then.

The diplomat, Part 1: Louis is artful when it comes to a potentially troublesome topic: the recent movie version of “CATS,” which some — OK, many — people essentially say belonged in the litter box. What do she and her castmates think of the film? “We think the movie is great for what it was, but there’s nothing like the theatrical show,” she says. “It’s definitely a live-show experience.”

The diplomat, Part 2: And, while we’re on the subject, does she ever run into any haters of the stage show? (I know that as a journalist, I sure do.) Again, Louis could join the Foreign Service: “Most of our interactions are with people who are ‘CATS’ fans. We always take in the good energy and release what’s not good for us. If it’s not your cup of tea, it’s not for your cup of tea. But it is for me.”

The takeaway: Louis is thrilled to be back on stage, working, as the Age of Vaccination takes hold. At the tour’s first performance, people in the audience started clapping in the middle of the “Jellicle Ball” number just because they were back in the theater. “I’m so excited for people to feel that joy again,” she says.


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Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

donaldfresnoarts@gmail.com

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