A Behind-The-Scenes Look at The Musical “Cats”

Ahead of its run in Detroit, cast member Timothy Gulan gives the inside scoop on getting into character and rehearsing during showtime
Cats photograph by Matthew Murphy, courtesy of Broadway in Detroit

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Cats, which originally opened in London in 1981, will begin its stay at the Fisher Theatre on Sept. 3.

“We’re so excited about this venue. Webber once said that it was his favorite sounding roadhouse in the country,” says Timothy Gulan, who plays the roles of Bustopher Jones, Peter, and Asparagus in the Tony Award-winning show. “Detroit has a really interesting culture; you just feel it. Exploring the city and the Fisher with this cast is going to be amazing.”

The cast began their multi-year tour in January, at the Providence Performing Arts Center in Rhode Island. In celebration of the 35th anniversary of this musical Broadway debut, the North American tour includes 24 stops this year, with more in 2020. “It’s Cats. It really is just an absolute classic,” Gulan says.

Cats follows the Jellicle Cats as they prepare for their annual ball. Each year, the leader of the group chooses one cat to ascend to the Heaviside layer and be reborn. Winner of Tony Awards for Best Musical and Best Original Score, Cats is also being adapted into a film set to release around Christmas.

Despite their rigorous rehearsal schedule last fall, Gulan says a lot of the practice happens while the show is touring. “We do the show about eight times a week, so there’s always room to progress and evolve the performance.” 

Though playing three characters may sound overwhelming, Gulan says making the transition is no major challenge. “My characters are honestly a night-and-day difference. Especially Bustopher and Asparagus,” he says. “Bustopher is so confident, huge, and loud, while ‘Gus’ is this quiet, shaky old cat. He’s really unsure of himself.” Gulan has three costume changes in the first act alone, swapping fat-suits for unitards effortlessly. “There’s something about looking in the mirror and not recognizing yourself that forces you to get into character.”

Costuming has become an essential part of Gulan’s pre-show ritual. Piling on two heavy layers of fat-suits required to play Bustopher transforms him from a seasoned actor with an extensive resume into an overweight, rowdy alley cat. All of the actors wear layers of makeup, wigs, and even prosthetics.

“Getting into character is interesting because we all do our own ‘cat-work’ outside of our
rehearsals,” Gulan says. This “cat-work” involves studying the mannerisms, and movements, and attitudes of different cat breeds and figuring out how to work them into a believable performance. “I’m lucky because I have cats at home. One of my cats is huge, he’s about 24 pounds. I channel him a lot when I’m on stage.”

Of his on-stage personas, Gulan finds that the role of Asparagus is the most interesting to explore due to his quiet nature. “He’s this older cat and you can tell that he’s a little insecure. He’s not all there sometimes,” Gulan says. “There are times where he doesn’t even speak because he’s worried the younger cats are going to make fun of him.”

When the cast performs in Detroit this month, it won’t be Gulan’s first visit. “I love Detroit. I’ve been here before for other shows and I actually learned to scuba dive here in 1994 at Don’s Dive Shop. I was also in Les Mis and the whole cast took classes here.”

As a food-lover, Gulan is excited to take in the tastes of the city. “I want to check out the different soul food and food trucks that Detroiters have. It’s rare to find a place where food is taken so seriously.”

Despite experience in shows like Les Miserables, The Lion King, and Some Like it Hot, Gulan has yet to experience Detroit’s Motown scene. “I’ve read so much about it, and it feels like a waste to be in this city and not indulge in everything it has to offer.”

Sept. 3-15. $35+. Fisher Theatre, 3011 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit; 313-872-1000; broadwayindetroit.com