What began as a musical about cats after Andrew Lloyd Webber picked up a book of poems in an airport bookshop has become one of the longest running shows in Broadway’s history. Winner of seven Tony Awards including Best Musical, CATS features 20 of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s timeless melodies, including the hit song, "Memory."
Openly gay performer Jason Wise, 22, plays Tumblebrutus in the touring production presented next week at Tennessee Performing Arts Center. After graduating from the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York, the New York native spent six months performing the musical version of Toy Story on a cruise ship in the Bahamas. And for the last two years, he’s toured with CATS in the U.S. and South America. Wise discusses his recent travels and career prospects with Out & About Newspaper.
Your time with this tour has taken you throughout the United States and parts of Central and South America. What about the Nashville experience excites you?
I’ve never been to Nashville, and it’s the music capital of the U.S., so it’s a huge draw for all of us traveling musicians and actors and performers. Coming to Nashville has a huge appeal. I’m actually looking forward to getting some nice true Southern food, not from Popeye’s (laughs), but from some hole-in-the-wall Southern restaurants.
What have been your favorite places to travel?
It’s always a place you would never expect. I’ve been to all 49 states except Alaska. We were out in Hawaii over New Year’s, but that wasn’t really my favorite. One of my favorites is actually Denver. I had the best week there. (The cit) was so geared towards the hip, the trendy and the gay. Then there’s New Orleans of course because of the music and culture.
Sometimes I don’t even know where I am though. That might sound really weird, but it’s hard to keep track sometimes. My parents think I’m crazy because one time I started crying because I had no idea where I was. You know the general area, but maybe not what city. That sounds kind of ridiculous; that doesn’t sound even possible.
At a relatively young age, you’ve earned a number of impressive opportunities. When this run is complete, what would you like to be involved in next?
You know what, the reason I’ve been so lucky, so young is that I’ve taken any job that comes my way. There are some selfish actors and dancers out there who say "I’m not going to do anything but a Broadway show, and they get all these phone calls and opportunities and don’t take them. They get stuck on doing one thing. You don’t have to be in showbiz to know this isn’t a business where you can be picky. They don’t hand job offers out like Skittles. So I’ve taken whatever phone ccall i’ve gotten. As long as I’m working, I’m being successful. It sure beats slinging burgers in Chelsea. (laughs)
What’s your favorite part about performing in this specific show?
I think it’s actually getting into the pre-show with the costume and the makeup because it’s so unlike anything else that you’ll ever do. It’s not like putting on khaki pants to do Hello, Dolly! or tap shoes to do 42nd Street. I get in there to put on legwarmers and yak hair, and there’s makeup all over my face and all over my neck. When they first called about the job, the first thing I thought about was the customes. It’s an iconic show: even if you haven’t seen it, you’ve seen it in some sort of media or video clips. The company and the costumes were so appealing and very exciting. I’m getting close to my 400th show, and I’m still excited to get dressed every night.
I definitely encourage the GLBT community to come out to the show. When there’s a group of young, excited musical theater people there, it’s very exciting for the cast. It gives us a lot of excitement to have more fun of. (Audience members) should let us know that they’re there.
Anyone who comes across your headshot might be disappointed to find out that you have a boyfriend. How did you two meet?
There are good things and bad things about that, but it’s mostly wonderful. We’d been touring together for six months, and we just weren’t friendly with each other. We didn’t have anything against each other; we just hadn’t talked before. Then out of the blue we both got sick and tired of being on the road. So we thought maybe we should hang out, and it was like having a brand new person. At the time, he had a boyfriend. Then one thing led to another and we ended up becoming roommates. He got rid of the boyfriend who was in New York and we’re still together now. It’s been like a paid honeymoon, I see people on tour who will get bored and hook up. It’s weird the next day when they have to ride the bus or perform stage. It can be really awkward at time. But we’ve gone on these great vacations, and we’re both satisfied professionally, so it’s worked out great.
Performances of CATS will be shown at Tennessee Performing Arts Center on April 1-3. Tickets range from $37.50-$68 and are available at the TPAC box office located at 505 Deaderick Street in downtown Nashville. You can also order tickets online by visiting tpac.org or by calling 615-782-4040.