Grammy Nominee and Cats Star Taylor Dayne on Her Stage Return and Memories of Jule Styne

News   Grammy Nominee and Cats Star Taylor Dayne on Her Stage Return and Memories of Jule Styne Pop singer Taylor Dayne, who made her Broadway debut in the Tony-winning musical Aida, has returned to the theatrical stage as Grizabella in the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats, which is currently playing the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse as part of the Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival this August.

Taylor Dayne
Taylor Dayne

Dayne, whose edgy rock belt made hits out of "Tell It To My Heart," "Don't Rush Me" and "Love Will Lead You Back," performs the stand-out song "Memory" in the production that runs through Sept. 11.

Playbill.com caught up with the performer just as performances began.

Was this always a role you wanted to play? Were you looking to return to theatre?

Taylor Dayne: I think it's a perfect segue for me to explore and challenge myself back on the stage. I just love the role. She's everything that I would want to sing about and feel in the moment. I think it was always just a classic wonderful women's role.

Most people know your work as a pop singer. Was theatre a big influence on you growing up?  TD: Yes and no. I was exposed to it a lot because my parents were avid theatregoers. But there was a part of me that kind of fought against it in some way, or was just kind of rebellious as far as musical theatre is concerned. But then I saw Ain't Misbehavin' and Liz Swados' Runaways, things that were not absolute Broadway but were Off-Broadway and made their way there… I loved the process of it, watching things really unfold and become something so great. My older brother designed lighting, so he was really involved in theatre. I think he saw Pippin like 12 times. So there were musicals that definitely affected our family! Man of La Mancha was always being played and Funny Girl was playing in the background on Sunday. But I would say that it was a learned thing. I was absolutely going to be a singer, but it wasn't necessarily for theatre, you know?

So you never caught Cats during its 18-year run?

TD: No, I did not! Yeah, I’m a virgin. [Laughs.] Considering how many years it was on. I saw The Fantasticks, I saw a lot of other things, but no, I never saw Cats.

You made your Broadway debut in Aida. How did that first encounter with the stage come about?

TD: At that point I’d already transitioned into other work. I did "Love Affair," the Warren Beatty film, and "Stag." I was also working with Jule Styne before he died. He had just started putting up The Red Shoes, and they were looking to cast a revival of Funny Girl. This was like 1995 or 1996, something like that.

What was that experience like?

TD: It was an extraordinary meeting and one of the funniest stories I've ever told – going in there, and really going from pop stage and touring, to really being in front of this man [Jule Styne]. Of course, the accompanist said, "Well you know, you're going to do 'The Music That Makes Me Dance,' so give it your Taylorisms." So, I'm thinking, "OK, just not straight ahead as what was in the music." Boy, did he tear me a new ass! He said, "Sing what's in the song. You know what? I don’t know what you do!" And he had no idea about anything I'd accomplished at that point. It was like a favor of a favor to get me in there. He was sitting in this big chair and we were in his big apartment there on Central Park West, and he said, "I don't know what you do, but this song has a job. I don't even know what clef you're singing in!" I looked over at the accompanist and I just wanted to tear his face off for saying to sing it like that! [Laughs]. I said, "Listen Mr. Styne, I'm a very intelligent woman, tell me what you want me to do." And he says, "Sing the G**damn song the way it was written!" I asked what song, and he said, "Don't Rain on My Parade." So I sang it and basically sat on his chair like a lion eating a mouse, and that was it. He goes, "I found my Funny Girl." So we had this wonderful love affair. Unfortunately, he was very sick, or becoming very sick at the time. But that was really where I was going to launch.

Grizabella isn't a typical role. Cats requires actors to take a very unique leap as performers. Has that been a difficult process?

TD: True, but you know, at the end of the day, look at the shoes I'm filling in this role. That's the attraction. It's not an easy number and it's also been taken on many times. I'm glad I haven't seen it. It's kind of like the idea of stepping into Barbra's shoes in Funny Girl. I mean, there's Betty Buckley, there's Elaine [Paige], you know? I also love the challenge of being on the stage – I'm not me. There's an extension of yourself, of course, and I just feel like at this time, those words have never rang more true – the lyrical content. It's just a beautiful, wonderful, big surging internal monologue. It's amazing!

As someone who connects with fans in a concert setting, does it appeal to you to connect with theatre audiences in a different, but still personal way? TD: Yeah, it's night and day. I have "Taylorisms," but believe me, I try to keep them in check. [They] didn't serve me well in the past. [Laughs]. All those little things that Jule yelled at me – it sticks in my head! Sing the song. The song was written and it lived for many many years, sing what’s there… I try to be very legit with it, you know? It's a role. It will live on. It has already proven itself, but I feel you also have to find your own voice.

Touring solo is also a lot different than being part of such a large cast. Has this been a nice change?

TD: I love the family environment, not for ever and ever, but I do love the length of this run. I can do it, and get in there and perform with this group and this family and be part of something. It's a nice feeling. And it's also a challenge.

Would you be interested in returning to Broadway if the right role came along? Are there roles you're dying to play?

TD: 100 percent, but maybe the roles are still yet to come. At one point I was in discussions for Legally Blonde. But maybe it just doesn't exist yet. There's Sunset Boulevard, too. I love theatre. If it works, I'm there.

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