There are a lot of cats in Cats. And when a show runs 18 years on Broadway, a large number of actors play those cats. So it’s only natural that the show should have kick-started a number of notable acting careers. The most famous performer to have done Cats is, of course, Betty Buckley, the original Grizabella. But Buckley was already a star when she took on what would become her most famous part. Following are nine actors who were unknown when they first donned the fur and whiskers and scampered about John Napier’s outsized junkyard. Many have gone on to Tony nominations and a couple to Tony Awards.
Aside from Betty Buckley, the best known stage actor to have been part of the original cast of the Broadway production of Cats is probably Terrence Mann, who played the rebellious Rum Tum Tugger. He first sang the songs “The Rum Tum Tugger” and “Magical Mr Mistoffelees.” It was only Mann’s second Broadway credit. (He played sundry ensemble roles in Barnum.) He went on to star in two mega-musicals, as the dogged detective Javert in Les Misérables and the title creature in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. He was nominated for a Tony Award for both performances. He has remained a mainstay on the New York stage—starring in The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Addams Family and Pippin—and, with his wife, actress Charlotte d’Amboise, is part of one of the best-known power couples in the New York theatre world.
Actor Bryan Batt gained international recognition when he played Salvatore Romano, the closeted gay ad executive in the 1960s-set television show Mad Men. But his career first took hold on Broadway when he took over for Munkustrap in the original Broadway production of Cats. After that, he became a regular in Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals, including Starlight Express, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Sunset Boulevard. Other credits include The Scarlet Pimpernel, Saturday Night Fever, Seussical and La Cage aux Folles. He has most recently starred in the series Scream on television.
Liz Callaway was barely out of her teens when she was cast in the Sondheim musical Merrily We Roll Along, which featured an all-youth ensemble. That show did not last long. But it was enough to land her the plum role of Grizabella as a replacement actor in the Broadway production of Cats. She became quite well known for her interpretation of the role. Callaway received a 1984 Tony nomination for her next part, Lizzie Fields in the musical Baby. She was also prominently featured in the mega-musical Miss Saigon. With her sister Ann Hampton Callaway, she had been a regular presence on the cabaret circuit. In film, she has been a sought-after vocal artist, singing songs in the animated films Anastasia and Beauty and the Beast.
Jennifer Cody won her first Broadway credit in Cats as one of the many actors who have played Rumpleteazer, the kitty who forms a double act with the cat Mungojerrie. Like many Cats actors, she later found work in Beauty and the Beast. She originated roles in the musicals Urinetown, Shrek and Seussical on Broadway and had a supporting role in the praised 2006 revival of The Pajama Game. Off-Broadway, she branched off into choreography with Debbie Does Dallas and Summer of ’42. The latter was co-written by her husband, actor Hunter Foster.
Greg Edelman, today known as a Broadway regular, received Tony nominations for City of Angels (in which he was the co-lead), the 1998 revival of 1776 and the 2002 revival of Into the Woods. But in his early days as a New York stage actor, he played a variety of roles in Cats, including Bustopher Jones, Asparagus and Growltiger. He followed fellow Cats alumni Terrence Mann into the role of Javert in the long-running Les Misérables and stepped into the role of Billy Crocker in the acclaimed 1987 revival of Anything Goes, as well as the leading part of Marvin in the original Broadway production of Falsettos. He originated the role of Colonel Ricci in the Broadway premiere of Sondheim’s Passion. More recently, he was in Broadway revivals of Wonderful Town and The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
Christopher Gattelli is one of a few Cats cast members who have gone on to notable careers as choreographers. He played Pouncival as a replacement actor in the Broadway production. Gattelli began to work behind the scenes Off-Broadway, creating dance for the musicals tick, tick…BOOM!, Bat Boy: The Musical and Altar Boyz. With Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me in 2006, he stepped into his Broadway choreographer shoes. His assignments have grown since then to include High Fidelity, the 2008 revival of South Pacific, 13, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and the 2011 revival of Godspell. Arguably his biggest success as a choreographer to date has been the Disney musical Newsies. He won a Tony Award and Drama Desk Award for his work on that show. However, he also essayed the dancing for the recent hit revival of The King and I, which won him another Tony nomination. With Off-Broadway’s SILENCE! The Musical, he graduated to director-choreographer.
Rob Marshall may be the most illustrious artist to have emerged from the Broadway Cats cast, having been nominated for multiple Tony Awards for his choreography and direction of musicals and an Oscar and Golden Globe for his direction of the 2003 movie version of the Kander and Ebb musical Chicago. As a young performer, he stepped into the part of Munkustrap in Cats. Other early Broadway credits including Zorba, The Rink and The Mystery of Edwin Drood. He began doing Broadway choreography with Kiss of the Spider Woman and the 1993 revival of She Loves Me. Damn Yankees, Company, Victor/Victoria and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum followed. His career shifted into high gear when he co-directed, with Sam Mendes, and choreographed the 1998 smash Broadway revival of Cabaret. Further film credits include Memoirs of a Geisha, Nine, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Into the Woods and the upcoming Mary Poppins Returns.
In 1997, Lillias White won both the Tony Award and Drama Desk Award for her performance as a veteran hooker in The Life. It was the most high-profile assignment to date for the long-standing performer, whose career began with replacement and understudy roles for Broadway’s Barnum, Dreamgirls and Cats, in which she played the “glamour cat,” Grizabella. She returned to Dreamgirls in 1987, when the show was revived on Broadway, and she played Effie White. Further Broadway credits include the original Carrie, the 1995 revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and Chicago (in which she played Mama Morton). She got a second Tony nomination for Fela! in 2010.
Scott Wise might win the prize for playing the widest variety of characters in Cats. During the Broadway run, he portrayed Plato, Macavity, Rumpus Cat, Alonzo, Tumblebrutus, Pouncival, and Carbucketty. He won a Tony Award in 1989 for his various feats of fancy footwork in the dance revue Jerome Robbin’s Broadway. This made him a rarity in the New York stage world: an ensemble dancer singled out for special praise. Further Tony nominations came with State Fair in 1996 and Fosse in 1999. He not only starred in Twyla Tharp’s Billy Joel dance musical Movin’ Out, but also co-directed.