Broadway Q&A: Meeting Munkustrap

Arts
Photo Caption: The company of "Cats". Photo credit: Matthew Murphy

“Cats” performer Dan Hoy talks about his fondness for the show and what it’s like to work with a bunch of cats on stage

Arturo Hilario
El Observador

Dan Hoy remembers wearing out a VHS copy of “Cats” when he was a young boy. Ever since then he’s embraced the lessons and dance numbers that the show is made up of, and continued into a career in the arts. Graduating from college just last May, he has his first Broadway job out of college – which turns out the be that exact show he remembers so fondly.

Playing the part of Munkustrap (and more obviously playing a cat), a leader in training for his tribe of felines, Hoy says that the show is an admirable, poetry and dance-filled experience to him. In the following Q&A, he tells us why he believes this show to be just that, as well as how it has been adapted to fit recent times, and what happened with the whole wearing-out-a-“Cats”-VHS.

How did you get into the performing arts? What was your inspiration?

I’m originally from Cleveland Ohio, and I grew up actually watching “Cats”. when I was a kid my parents bought me the VHS tape, it was a 1998 recording I believe, and I watched it so many times that I actually broke the VHS tape, and they had to go buy the DVD version of it. So, actually this show is a huge inspiration for me growing up. It inspired me to kind of start up in musical theater. I started as a dancer and then segue to acting, singing and performance on the stage. I went to college for it and now we’re here.

With that in mind, learning you booked “Cats” must have been a wild moment.

It was a really cool full circle moment for me. I remember when I got the call from my agent that I had booked this job, I couldn’t even make words for a good minute or two. It’s just weird how the universe works sometimes. This was the show that inspired me to go into this and then my first major contract out of college is this show. It was really surreal.

Could you tell me in your opinion what “Cats” is all about?

There are a few levels on what makes “Cats” a really cool theatrical experience. On the more surface level, I think that the technical elements and the dancing, and the unique aspect of a bunch of people acting as cats and dancing around is this really, really cool just in its uniqueness. Especially when the show came out in the 80’s, nothing had been done like this before. It has a very artistic factor in that way. What I also think is really cool about this piece that I don’t think is talked about quite as often is one of the core thematic elements of it and the time that we’re living in right now. I think that at the core of this piece is learning acceptance.

There’s one cat in the show named Grizabella and she’s the one that sings the iconic “Memory”, you know the song that everyone knows. And throughout the entire piece she’s been shunned and rejected from the rest of the tribe because of actions she has taken or because of who she was. At the end of the show after she sings “Memory” everyone realizes that leadership and community should never be through rejection or hatred or vitriols, it should be through forgiveness and love and acceptance. And I think honestly the culture that we’re living in right now, politically and socially, we need this story right now. We need to understand. I think it’s humanization. Relating to our fellow man and just embracing each other.

So, you’ve mentioned “Cats” and community, and those seem like those two go hand in hand in this show. Could you explain a little bit about how your character of Munkustrap connects to that and the show as a narrator?

Yeah, so he is a bit of a narrator and in the context of the tribe and of the piece he is sort of the leader in training. The leader of the tribe is my character’s father, Old Deuteronomy he presides over everything, but I aspire to sort of become the next leader of the tribe. In doing such, I think that Munkustrap, he tries to apply the law of the land and keep order and it’s very black and white initially. He tries to keep what he views as bad out and bring what he views as good in. at the end of the show what he realizes and what Old Deuteronomy tries to teach him throughout the piece without really saying it is that leadership is not in laws or in restriction. Leadership is in love, in forgiveness, in acceptance, in understanding; and embracing those people that we may not entirely understand or necessarily relate to. So, it’s a really cool journey to get to go on every night, because he does kind of start the show from a place of ignorance. Not necessarily ill-intentioned ignorance, but he doesn’t have this willingness to open himself up and then by the end of the show he’s really embraced this character that he has spent so much of the piece hating and trying to push away.

Do you have any specific moments within the show or actually things that you may see as an audience member that is a favorite?

You know, two are coming to mind. One is something that I actually do, for personal reasons, and one is a moment that I watch every night and just get chills from the beauty of it. The one from the personal moment for me [is] there’s a moment in the show, it’s a choreographed moment during a dance number called “The Jellicle Ball”, it’s a big twelve-minute dance extravaganza – it’s crazy. There’s this iconic moment where everyone is in unison together, and they’re slowly lifting their arms into the heavens. The section is called, “Warsaw”, but I remember as a kid, watching that moment on the VHS tape, and doing it with the tape, as my little five or four-year-old self, and then now getting to do it on a Broadway national tour is a really out of body experience. Especially the first time we did it in the room, it was really quite beautiful.

Then the moment that I witness every night that gives me chills is actually during “Memory”. Keri René Fuller who plays Grizabella, who is stunning, simply fantastic, there’s a moment in the song where she’s sort of thrown herself to the floor, she’s desperate, she’s broken, she’s trying to search for answers. After a moment of collecting herself, she pulls herself up to her feet and just lets out this beautiful song to the heavens, and it’s so desperate and pleading and just wanting to be accepted and embraced. And the line is, “Touch me, it’s so easy to leave me all alone with the memory of my days in the sun.” It’s just poetic, and the way she delivers it every single night I have chills all the way up through my body, it’s just really beautiful.

The first time you see it you might not follow every little thing that’s happening because it is based on poetry but what’s cool about it is you have this feeling and this connection to it and you sort of understand the emotional roller-coaster. Also, something really unique about this tour is the dancing. “Cats” is a huge dance piece and these actors are insanely talented. What differentiates this piece from productions of “Cats” from the past is most productions were strictly original choreography. The original choreography was brilliant, it was done by a woman named Gillian Lynne. This production was actually choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler who you might know from a little show called “Hamilton”. He choreographed that. What’s cool about this piece is that it’s a marriage of Blankenbuehler’s work, sort of through a 2019 lens, and Gillian Lynne’s original, iconic choreographer. So even people that have seen the piece before, that do know the piece really well, they’ll be able to kind of experience this show for the first time all over again.

For folks that haven’t seen “Cats”, or that have seen the original but not this updated version, why should they make it out to watch the show?

Well I think that the story is very timely, I think that it’s painting a picture of the world that we’re living in today in terms of how we treat our fellow men. But also, honesty, the dancing is unrealistically good. My character dances a bit, like I definitely dance, but I don’t dance as much as some of my fellow castmates. In the rehearsal room every day I fell like I’m getting a free show. It’s just so impressive and they’re so committed to their work and it’s really, really fascinating to watch a dancer tell a story without ever saying a word. They can tell the story with their bodies. It’s really quite remarkable.

[Also] you’re seeing an iconic piece. The original won 7 Tony’s, it won a Grammy. It’s a very well-known piece and its brilliant from the start, but now you’re kind of getting it through an updated lens, with a new fresh take. Also, you just get to see this insane amount of talent on stage in front of you. So, I’m very excited to come to San Jose, I’ve actually never been out to the West Coast, which is kind of crazy. But I’m thrilled to be bringing this piece out to you guys, and out to California.


“Cats” runs from now until Sunday February 24, 2019. Tickets are available at broadwaysanjose.com

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