The Art of Being Grizabella

Special Features   The Art of Being Grizabella
 
Meet Anastasia Lange, a new generation of feline in the national tour of Cats.
Anastasia Lange
Anastasia Lange Photo by G Creative

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It seems they weren't kidding when they advertised Cats as being "now and forever."

The curtain came down on the Broadway production a decade ago, and the West End production closed two years later, but ever since the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical premiered in London in 1981, the show has played somewhere in the world. Right now there's a touring company in Australia, a Japanese production in Yokohoma and a non-Equity American national tour that's been on the road since the fall of 2008. That tour continues into August.

"I think many people first come to see the show because of the novelty, to see how actors look and move and interact as cats," says Anastasia Lange, who plays Grizabella and sings "Memory," the show's most famous song. "But they come back over and over again because it's a beautiful show that resonates with audiences."

Also resonating with audiences — and critics — is Lange's performance. She has earned accolades from coast to coast, with critics saying she "walks away with the show" (Orlando Sentinel). It's an impressive accomplishment, as Grizabella is meant to be played by an actress with a little more seasoning; Lange just turned 29. "One of the greatest challenges, and one of the greatest rewards, of playing this role for me is that she's a middle-aged woman — or in this case, a middle-aged feline," says Lange. "Without the makeup and costumes involved in this production, I never would have been cast. But I think the idea of trying to hang on to parts of your youth happens to us, to some degree, at all stages of life — you're never as young as you used to be. So I try to find places where that already exists in my own life, and I try to be perceptive about what I see of older women going through the same thing. The physicality of the role is so multilayered. There's the aging aspect, the feline aspect, and on top of that, the idea that she used to be very graceful in her movement. So you have to be able to show glimpses of what she used to be, in addition to what she's become."

The cat makeup greatly limits Lange's facial expression, creating yet another challenge. "You have to work much harder to convey an emotion that would be easily expressed without that makeup," she says. "But there's actually something very freeing about being covered from head to toe. It allows you to completely let go and lose yourself, and fully take on the character."

Her expression comes through loud and clear in "Memory," a song that means as much to her as it does to the audience. "It has such a simplicity to it and is so perfectly written," she says. "When I learned it, what I wanted to do was strip away everything that I knew of the song from hearing it over the years done by so many artists. I wanted to just get down to the basics. And I discovered that everything I needed to know was spelled out in the song. It's so truthful and honest, which is one of the reasons it's so effective. The emotional experience that the audience has with the song and with the character is unlike anything I've ever experienced on a stage before. It's a joy for me to stand onstage and play this role every night, and I want to ride the wave and enjoy it for as long as I can."

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