Casting director Lindsay Levin may not like cats (she’s allergic), but she loves Cats. “That was my Broadway debut as a casting director,” she says proudly of the current revival production.
Levine has been working at Tara Rubin Casting since 2010. Before Cats, she assisted on many productions but was never the lead casting director. “When the opportunity came along for me to do Cats I was like, it’s go big or go home,” she exclaims. ”There's, at a minimum, 34 cast members in the show at a time, 34 to 38 now I think. So it's a big show and I was just so grateful for the opportunity.”
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This season, Levine is also working on Dear Evan Hanson and Bandstand. For her, maintaining a show like Cats is a very particular challenge, because it’s such a dance-heavy production. “For the bulk of the roles the dancing is the most important, or the skill that's at the forefront of what we're looking for,” she explains, “So most people that are in the show came through a dance call to start.” Unlike a standard audition where an actor might sing a song and then leave, for a Cats dance call, performers are usually asked to say for two to three hours and will usually learn four to five dance combinations (a typical dance call only involves two dance combinations). “Our audition process is probably longer than a lot of audition processes,” Levine admits.
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But not only do these cats have to be skilled dancers, they have to be able to sing while performing intricate choreography—such as Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer, who have their own acrobatic song-and-dance number. “I think all of the original cast members and replacement are just so skilled, they're such triple threat performers,” Levine enthuses. “It's really strenuous, with a lot of physical and vocal demands, so it can be a challenging show to cast.”
There are also the cats who are not dancers, such as Grizabella or Old Deuteronomy. Those audition processes are more traditional. When Levine looks for a Grizabella, she wants “an actress who embodies the soul and the spirit of this dated glamour cat seeking redemption,” she explains, adding, “and singing ‘Memory’ is the most important element.”
And like their real-life counterparts, the cats in Cats aren’t interchangeable—some are old and stately, others are young and mischievous. They may be covered in makeup and “cat-leisure wear” but their personalities are all distinct, according to Levine, “It's easy to just lump them all in together and say, oh they're all cats. But really...they all have their own character traits, just like any character in a musical that are human.”
As part of Tara Rubin Casting, she’s also received advice from Rubin, who worked on the original Broadway run of Cats, on how to maintain a long-running theatre property.
“Tara, we used to make fun of her because someone would come into an audition for something and she’d say, ‘He used to be a cat!’'” Levine says chuckling. “She knows every actor in New York and so many of them in their careers at one point were cats. So now I feel like that person, where I'm like, ‘She was a cat! He’s a cat!’”