The cats came back.
Since Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats closed in 2000 as the then-longest-running show in Broadway history, two of its dancing felines have been missing.
It seemed the psychic cats Coricopat and Tantomile had run out of lives in 1985, as they'd been conspicuously absent from North American touring productions of the blockbuster hit. Given the twin felines had no vocal solo, they disappeared from the plotless musical as a cost-cutting measure.
Coricopat and Tantomile have wandered back into the latest American national tour, which stops for three shows at the Centennial Concert Hall Friday and Saturday. A chance conversation between the current road show's director/choreographer Richard Stafford and the original choreographer Gillian Lynne in London a couple of years ago fixed the twins up with a ticket to again attend the annual Jellicle Ball.
Every performance on the tour, which started in December, two of the six swings (understudies) who make up the ensemble assume the roles of Coricopat and Tantomile in the landmark musical comedy based on T.S. Eliot poems from the 1939 Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats.
"It's an amazing opportunity, because we get more stage time than is normally the case for swings," says Rachel Boone, who plays the psychic cat Tantomile to Lucas Thompson's Coricopat.
What distinguishes this pair of Jellicles is that they have the same brown, black and grey stripes and they move in almost complete synchronization. They seem to communicate with each other through looks -- telepathy, some say.
"You'll notice them because they always move together," says Boone, a 23-year-old North Carolinian making her debut in this non-union production. "We're psychic, so we can tell when a mood (onstage) is changing or is about to change. We predict Grizabella's coming. We warn other cats about dangers. So if you watch us you can always tell what's happening."
Mirroring each other's movements does take some getting used to. Some of what she and 25-year-old Thompson do is choreographed but much is about being in tune with each other, to sense each other's actions.
Boone, born in Germany into a military family, understudies six roles, including Demeter, Rumpelteazer and Bombalurina. Throw in Tantomile and some nights its hard to remember who she's playing.
"It's always a challenge to make sure I'm doing the right role onstage," she says over the telephone during a recent stop in Winnipeg on the tour's way to runs in Saskatoon and Regina before it returns to the concert hall. "There's definitely been times I've gone over to one side of the stage to do one section of choreography and realized that's not the role I'm currently dressed as."
Cats -- its motto is Now and Forever -- was the first in a wave of mega-musicals that reshaped Broadway in the 1980s. It made Lloyd Webber a global brand name and blazed a trail for box office behemoths such as The Phantom of the Opera and Les Misérables. On Broadway's longest-run list, Cats currently ranks second, with 7,485 performances. Last summer Rainbow Stage presented it for the first time.
"A lot of parents and grandparents have seen the show and are bringing their children and grandkids," says Boone, who will be with the tour until it wraps this summer. "It's been around for so many years that they've all see it. It's like this experience they want to pass on to a younger generation. I think that's who's coming to see Cats now."
Centennial Concert Hall
Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m.