Adam Richardson’s first day of rehearsals for the touring production of CATS was very different than most musical rehearsals. The time was spent learning how to be and think like a feline.
“We had a full day of cat school,” says Richardson, who plays Old Deuteronomy in the show. “We were crawling around and learning cat mannerisms. We had cat sensory exercises.”
The national tour of CATS will take over the Altria Theater stage from Tuesday, February 4, through Sunday, February 7. Composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber and based on T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, the record-breaking musical opened on Broadway in 1982 at the Winter Garden Theatre, where it ran for 7,485 performances and eighteen years.
A native of Smithfield, Virginia, Richardson had auditioned for the 2016 Broadway revival, but didn’t get cast in that production. When the national tour was announced, he auditioned and was tapped for the show.
“I’m one of the original members of the touring company. I started with the show in December 2018,” he says.
He joined the production as one of the members of the CATS chorus, actors who sing the show through backstage. He stepped into the role of Old Deuteronomy just a week-and-a-half ago. “What I love about Old Deuteronomy is that he is so wise,” Richardson says. “Wisdom oozes out of him, especially during the second act.”
A Love of Music
Music has always been an important part of Richardson’s life. “I was a pianist first and I hated it. I begged my parents to let me stop taking piano,” he says. “I always sang in chorus in school and church. I started doing plays in middle school.”
Richardson attended The Governor’s School for the Arts in Norfolk and participated in the vocal program. “That’s where it clicked for me that I had a talent,” he says.
He went on to major in vocal performance at Carnegie Mellon University where he received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. He got his master’s in vocal performance from The Juilliard School. “If you had asked me what I wanted to do when I was twenty, I would have said be an opera singer and a star,” he says. “When I graduated from Juilliard, I just wanted to sing and make art – do work in some sort of capacity in my chosen field and be happy.”
During his career, Richardson has performed in everything from opera to musicals. “It has helped me to diversify myself as an artist who is classically trained,” he says.
Many of the classes he had at Carnegie Mellon and Juilliard – such as acting, ballet, movement, and drama – gave him a “leg up in auditioning for musical theater,” he says. “I’m really lucky to have gone to those two schools.”
One of the challenges of being in a musical like CATS is the strain that it puts on your voice. The show is sung through, from beginning to end. It’s also a real workout for dancers. “My castmates are truly phenomenal dancers and actors,” he says. “This is one of the hardest shows for any dancer to do.”
Some people have a hard time grasping the gist of the show, he adds. “The show is about one night once a year when all the cats come together to choose one cat to be reborn. During the evening all the cats plead their case to go to the Heaviside Layer.”
The touring production features new sound design, direction, and choreography by Tony Award-nominated Andy Blankenbuehler, based on the original choreography by Gillian Lynne. Blankenbuehler did the choreography for In the Heights and Hamilton. He also choreographed the movie version of CATS.
“They wanted to bring a more fresh version but still have some of the original choreography,” Richardson says. “Audiences love the blending of those two styles.”
Richardson saw the movie version of the show on Christmas day in Toronto. “Something that I enjoyed about the movie is one of the biggest criticisms of CATS,” he says. “People say there is no story, but there is a story even though it might be a little loose. The movie did a good job of flushing the story out more to make it more understandable for first-time CATS viewer.”
A week or two ago, Richardson and his castmates performed at the Ferguson Center for the Arts in Newport News. “I was at home,” he says. “When I’m in Richmond, I will have some friends and family drive up to see the show.”
Living in New York City is very different than being in Southeastern Virginia, he adds. “When I was in Newport News I drove home when the sun was setting. I forget how beautiful Virginia is. Being in New York you don’t get a lot of beautiful sunsets because of the tall buildings. I took the beauty in Virginia for granted growing up.”
CATS runs through Sunday, February 9, at Altria Theater. Student discounts for day-only tickets for some shows are available. Best availability for tickets overall is early in the week. For tickets and information, visit BroadwayinRichmond.com.
Read the RFM review (also by Joan) here.