People always feed them, so they just keep coming back for more. • The feral felines who make up the dramatis personae of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats have been roaming the country for more than a quarter-century now, and still they manage to draw large and enthusiastic audiences wherever they roam.
"Technically, Cats never closed," said Danny Beiruti, who plays Rum Tum Tugger in the touring production. "It opened on Broadway in 1982, and even though that production has closed, this tour started before the Broadway run ended and it's been running ever since."
The show coming to the Mahaffey Theater next week is the same tour that has been making the rounds since the 1980s. It features the original costumes and choreography that made Cats the longest-running show on Broadway (a record since eclipsed by Webber's The Phantom of the Opera). Cats ran for 18 years on Broadway and 21 in London.
The only significant differences are in the ever-changing cast and the set. When it first opened, Cats was so extravagant that New York's Winter Garden Theater had to be revamped to accommodate its large, high-tech set. The touring show is scaled down for logistical reasons.
The scaled-down version is actually truer to director Trevor Nunn's original concept for the show, Beiruti said.
"It was originally conceived to be much smaller," he said. "It was going to be in the round, and the cats were going to have a lot more interaction with the audience."
But even if the touring show is a bit more compact, local audiences don't seem to mind. This week marks at least the 17th time the tour has come to this area.
It has been at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center seven times, and at Ruth Eckerd Hall nine.
It still draws crowds, thanks to some great songs (Memory is the best-known), sensual dancing and classic costumes.
"On one hand, it's dated, because it's very '80s," Beiruti said. "But on the other hand it's timeless because of the songs and the characters. Kids love it, so it's a good show if you're looking to give your kids their first theater experience. Even in the current economic environment, our show is doing very well."
Marty Clear is a Tampa freelance writer who specializes in performing arts. He can be reached at email@example.com.