Eight shows a week, Keri Rene Fuller thrills audiences at "Cats" with the show-stopping ballad they've all come to hear: "Memory." Even theatergoers who know nothing else about the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical know that classic song.
There is a lot of pressure to meet their expectations.
"I definitely feel pressure to perform well in 'Memory' because, for a lot of people, that's why they buy a ticket. I always want to give a performance people will remember," says the actress who plays Grizabella, the aging glamour cat who sings the show's signature number.
However, she wants to make that memory in her own way.
"The most important part of the role of Grizabella is not to try to sound like anybody who came before you because it is so iconic. If you are trying to sound like anybody who has ever covered 'Memory,' then you are not being authentic to yourself. They're not seeing Elaine Paige or Betty Buckley (who sang the role in the original London and Broadway casts, respectively); they're seeing Keri Rene Fuller."
"Cats" is the Tony Award-winning musical that has been presented in more than 30 countries and in 15 languages. It tells the story of one magical night each year when a tribe of cats gathers for the Jellicle Ball to decide which cat will be reborn. The story is based on a poetry collection by T.S. Eliot.
The cats gather in a junkyard and first explain to the audience how different cats are named. Munkustrap, the show's narrator, tells the audience that on this night, wise leader Old Deuteronomy will choose one of the cats to be reborn. As the cats tell their tales, the audience meets tabby cat Jennyanydots, cat-about-town Bustopher Jones, fickle Rum Tum Tugger, railway cat Skimbleshanks and magician Mr. Mistoffelees.
If you go
* What: “Cats”
* Where: Tivoli Theatre, 709 Broad St.
* When: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 31; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Feb. 1; 2 pm. Feb. 2
* Admission: $43-$83
* For more information: 423-757-5580
Longtime fans of the musical will notice this national tour returns Grizabella's role to the show's roots. Fuller will first appear as a young, vibrant Grizabella — "Baby Griz as we call her" — in the opening number. She later returns to the stage as the aging, faded Grizabella, who is shunned by others of the tribe.
"It really gives the sense of a full circle," says Fuller, "that she used to be part of this tribe and used to be loved. Through choices she made and others made, she no longer feels part of the tribe."
Fuller emphasizes the cast truly is an ensemble, and believes audiences will see that cohesiveness.
"There is no part more important than the other, because what makes this show work is the ensemble nature — the fact we are telling the story of a tribe and we are a tribe throughout the entire production. There are only two or so times that the entire company is not onstage together."
That company includes 32 performers, 22 of them onstage cast members. The tour travels with its own musicians, company management, stage management, hair/wardrobe/makeup teams and backstage crew — about five dozen people.
The junkyard set is "quite extensive" she says, filled with an oversized mishmash of items that have been thrown away: clothing, bicycle wheels, newspapers, books, a random shoe.
Those who saw the recent film production of "Cats" shouldn't dismiss this Jellicle Ball. There's a reason that "Cats" is the fourth-longest-running show in Broadway history.
"The difference is night and day because there is nothing on the screen that will compare to a live production with live actors baring their hearts and souls," says Fuller, who has seen the film.
"You weren't able to tell from the film the athleticism this show requires from everyone involved. These dancers are athletes. The emotion this production evokes when you see it live — it's like you are transported to a different world. That's really special. So while the film is a great piece of work in its own right, I personally feel the way to experience 'Cats' is live."
Contact Susan Pierce at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6284.