Interview with Keith Wilson

Keith Wilson helping with a Broadway Cares Cats auction, Sept. 2000

Plato/Macavity in Hamburg, Germany, September 1994-April 1995

Plato/Macavity/Rumpus Cat on Broadway, May 11, 1999-September 10, 2000

Keith Wilson as Plato on the roof of the Winter Garden Theatre; used with permission from M. Henning (aka Adas) and K. Wilson.

Delilah: When did you first start dancing?

Keith Wilson: I did musicals in high school, but I didnít really know what I was doing. I just did what I was shown. I didnít start dance training until college, but I had been doing gymnastics in high school and the school musicals, so that helped with flexibility and coordination. I knew gymnastics very well, but no dance terminology at all. I just did whatever was shown to me in the musicals and hoped it was right. Once I got to college, I learned dance technique.

Dee: When did you first start singing?

KW: Same thing. High school musicals is when I started to sing.

Dee: What is your vocal range?

KW: I will say that Iíve never taken voice classes. Whatever comes out, thatís what you hear.

Dee: What was your first big debut to the stage?

KW: It was in the fourth grade and I had a cello solo with the orchestra behind me. It was really exciting. As for dancing, freshman year in high school in Guys and Dolls. I was in the chorus.

Dee: Do you still play the cello?

KW: I look at my cello every so often and tell myself I should play it, but I donít. It was more fun to play when I was in an orchestra.

Dee: Yeah, I can relate. When did you realize that performing is what you wanted to do for a living?

KW: I donít really know. I suppose it was after my first job at Six Flags Great Adventure. It was great to be paid to sing and dance so I just kept auditioning for shows and kept working.

Dee: Are you, or were you ever a CATS fanatic?

KW: No, Iíd never even seen the show until I was in Germany getting ready to rehearse.

Keith as Plato in the Hamburg Junkyard; used with permission as above.

Dee: Do you own the CATS video?

KW: I have a copy of it from taping it off of the TV when it was on PBS.

Dee: Do you think it is a good representation of the show, bearing in mind that it is for many people their first exposure?

KW: No, I think the video is pretty bad. There are too many cuts and it tried to be all ďartyĒ in the way it was filmed. Itís always hard to adapt a stage production to film anyway, but I think the Cats video is not a good representation of the show at all. Too many close-ups. Cats isnít about whatís going on with the character whoís singing a particular song. Itís about whatís going on around him/her and all the little bits. I donít like the video much, but I will say that the one good thing that came out of it was that people saw the video and then wanted to see it live. That was good for audience attendance.

Dee: Yes, it would be. Do you have, or have you ever had a feline companion?

KW: A few cats growing up and right now I have the weirdest cat in the world named Lucas. Black with a white muzzle and white stomach.

Dee: What kind of music do you like?

KW: Anything but country and rap.

Dee: What are your favourite hobbies?

KW: I donít really have any unless you consider going to the gym a hobby.

Dee: Okay, let me rephrase the question: What are some of your other interests, or what do you like to do when youíre not onstage?

KW: HmmÖ.I enjoy working out at my gym, watching TV and reading anything from sci-fi to romance to horror movies. I also enjoy building models of colonial houses.

Dee: What are your favourite stage shows to watch?

KW: Any kind of musical is fine with me. No favorites.

Dee: Can you tell us what other roles you have played?

KW: I havenít had any roles. Just chorus in a show.

Dee: What roles would you like to play in the future?

KW: I donít aspire to doing roles. Iím fine in the chorus or just being in a show.

Dee: What made you decide you wanted to be in Cats?

KW: Well, I knew absolutely nothing about the show when I started auditioning for it. I just knew that it had a good range of heights and types and that I was right for one of those types. The first time I ever saw the show was when I was in Hamburg and saw the show the evening before I started rehearsals the next day. Pretty silly, huh?

Dee: No, it makes sense to me. Now, I have heard you say that you were thrown into the middle of CATS performing without a proper introduction. Can you tell us how that happened?

KW: I had plenty of time to learn the show when I was in Germany because of having to learn the language. On Broadway, they needed me in ASAP, so I just learned the show in a week and went on. I guess they forgot to give me the ďStory of CATSĒ speech. I think the stage manager was supposed to do it. But I asked questions and also learned a lot from the [CATS] forum [on].

Keith as Plato backstage at the Winter Garden; used with permission from C. Bye (aka Sunsh54) and K. Wilson.

Dee: How did you come to be in Germany?

KW: I auditioned for the German company here in Orlando and got a call a few months later. It was also in the same dance studio where I auditioned for and got the Broadway company, too.

Dee: What did you like most about being in CATS, both Broadway and Germany?

KW: I loved doing the show in both places. More so in NYC because it was in English. Itís a great show for the singer/dancer/actor because you do so much of each in the show.

Dee: What did you like least about being in CATS, both places? Be honest now!

KW: I didnít really like living in Germany because it was dark, cold, and rainy the entire time I was there. NYC was all right because of friends there, but itís a better place to visit. Iím just not a big city boy I guess.

Dee: Is there a significant difference between the Broadway and German shows? And please, donít get smart with me and say ďthe languageĒ!

KW: There are subtle differences between the two. Choreography, spacing, characters, tempos, and of course, the language.

Dee: Argh, he said it!

KW: The tours that were out were the same as the German company. Also, different directors for the show which I found odd. David Taylor directed Hamburg and the tours; Trevor Nunn/Gillian Lynne directed Broadway.

Dee: Of course, weíve heard that one time during the Macavity fight you and Lenny had a little mishap. Do you mind telling us what happened from your perspective?

KW: During the part near the end where he was swinging me around, he slipped and we both went down. I always closed my eyes to keep from getting dizzy, so I didnít know what happened until I felt a bump on my head. I thought I had hit someone, but there we both were on the floor. Thank God the wig had all that yak hair for padding. I hardly felt a thing. Plus, Lenny did everything he could to ease the fall. He did a great job. So we looked at each other, said, ďYou all right?Ē We both nodded and kept going. It all happened so quickly that if you didnít know it wasnít supposed to happen, you would have thought it was a part of the show.

Keith as Macavity backstage at the WGT; used with permission as above.

Dee: Tell us how you prepared for CATS, i.e. how did you learn to move and act like a cat?

KW: I didnít really do anything special to prepare for CATS. In Germany, when I was learning the show for the first time, there was one day when I interacted with a few other cast members during rehearsal to get used to being catlike. Mostly, though, it came from watching the others and using my imagination. But back to the first part, I just put on the make-up and costume and went out onstage.

Dee: Oh, he is the clever one, isnít he? On average, how long did it take you to get into full costume and makeup?

KW: Twenty minutes for make-up and wig, a few more minutes for the costume.

Dee: Can you tell us a little about what goes on backstage, e.g. pre-show rituals, things to do to pass the time, etc.?

KW: No rituals or anything. Weíd all just hang out, stretch and talk. No CATS secrets or anything.

Dee: Oh, darn.

KW: Just a bunch of actors talking before we went onstage.

Dee: How did you respond or react to any audience members who might get rowdy and/or obnoxious?

KW: If they were really annoying, they got kicked out of the theater. Otherwise we just ignored them.

Dee: From the point of view of your character, why do you think Grizabella was banished from the Jellicle tribe?

KW: Grizabella is kind of like Cassie from A Chorus Line. She left to make it big but failed so she came back hoping to be accepted. She had a harder time of it, though, and fell on hard times. I get the feeling that she thought she was better than the other Cats, but after failing, realized that she belonged back in the tribe with her friends.

Dee: Itís character interpretation time! Weíll start with Macavity. What kind of Cat is he, totally evil or just misunderstood?

KW: Macavity is just plain evil in my opinion. There are just some people/cats born that way. No misunderstanding that.

Dee: What are his relationships with Old Deuteronomy, Munkustrap, and Demeter?

KW: I think that Old Deut is his father and Munk is his brother(?). I believe thatís what Iíve heard, not sure. And I guess he raped Demeter at some point or terrorized her, which is why she freaks out whenever heís around.

Keith as Plato with Celina Carvajal as Demeter; used with permission as above

Dee: What about the Rumpus Cat, is he a real Cat or a legendary figure?

KW: From what I understand, Rumpus Cat is just like Superman or any other comic book hero. Heís the hero in the story of ďThe Pekes and the PolliclesĒ. I have no idea what he represents, though.

Dee: And finally Plato. Is he a mischievous kitten or an obnoxious adolescent?

KW: Plato is an adult Cat who refuses to grow up and hangs out with the younger Cats. He wants to be a teenager forever. He really doesnít have any relationships that mean anything with any of the other Cats. He just wants to be a part of whatever is going on. Thatís the Broadway version. In Hamburg, Plato was a loner and just wanted to be by himself and think about life. He couldnít be bothered with anyone else. He was always lazy and deep in thought. Very introspective.

Dee: And now for some questions from your other fans, as posted on the CATS forum at May 30-31, 2001.

Adas: Given the weight and length of your tail, were you ever thrown off balance during the tumbling and/or dance steps? Also when you rehearseÖwere you given a tail to practice with?

KW: In Germany, I was given a rehearsal tail because it is pretty different doing turns and gymnastics with that thing attached to your waist and weighing you down a bit. Plus, it can throw off momentum or just plain slap you in the face as it has many times in the past. I didnít have one in the NYC rehearsals because I had already done the show and knew what to expect. Anymore questions?

Gintora: Run away, run far, far away! Here come the fans!! Now really though, what is the velocity you gain when launched from the springboard of doom? Do you have to calculate in your lunch of a Big Mac for ultimate height? As your friends weíre concerned about your safety. Can I have your helmet with the blinking lights?

KW: HmmmmmÖ..the velocity of my entrance from that SOD (Springboard of Doom). I donít really know, but Iím sure it was somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 mph! Of course, if I ate a McDonalds Big Mac value meal right before the show, I had to jump extra hard because of that extra weight. But if I had eaten a McDonald salad I was fine because lettuce doesnít weigh that much. And no, you canít have the helmet. I need it at night when Iím out scaring the kids in the neighborhood. :~)

Keith as the Great Rumpus Cat backstage at the WGT; used with permission as above.

Magenta: I have a question or two to chuck in here, too! Firstly, have you ever not made it out of the startrap?? Either as in, nothing happened, or as in you half went through and then got stuck. I remember we were told tales at the New London Theatre of a Rumpus who started up, his helmet got out of the startrap, then cos he was going so slowly he fell back down. The flaps of the stage closed, leaving a Rumpus Cat wig in the middle of the stage. :~) Secondly, did you ever have any real mishaps during the fight scene? Iíve heard something about you and Lenny sprawled across the stage! Aaaand finally, when doing the transformation from Macavity back to Plato for the end of the show wasnít it a real pain in the butt to remove the extra bits of Macavity make-up??

KW: I never had any problems with the startrap other than falling on my butt one time because I jumped too early, but I did hear of someone not making it out all the way because of some problem with the weights that were dropped to give us the momentum to go up and out. I donít think he was hurt, but I canít imagine that it felt good. I know I wouldnít want those spikes poking me in the sides while stuck there. As for the fight, the only really dangerous thing that happened was when Lenny slipped when he was spinning me around. He broke my fall and did everything he could to make sure I wouldnít get hurt, as I would have done had I been spinning him. He was an amazing partner and neither of us was hurt and we just kept going. I think that if you didnít know it wasnít supposed to happen, you might have thought it was part of the show. And yes, it was a pain having to change back into Plato afterwards, but at least in NYC I didnít have to come back onstage until the end of Memory. In Germany I had to be out to do the Misto lift at the end of the number. I was one messy looking Cat in Germany. Not a lot of time to do anything other than get the colors back on and try to get some of the markings in place. In NYC I had plenty of time to get back into Plato and look halfway decent. In fact, there were times that while Memory was going on Iíd go bug Lenny because he was all the way upstage left on top of the car trunk. I could crawl up the ladder he was next to and pull his tail or try to make him laugh, or take a short nap inside the trunk right where Gumbie would come out for the tap number.

Dee: Geez, and they were paying you for this. ;~) Now, Keith, please share with us some of your favourite Cats Memories. [As posted on the forum, 8/16/01]

KW: Looking at myself for the first time in costume, wig, and makeup. It was really weird but really exciting. Looking at the startrap and what I had to do and thinking it was crazy. They didnít say ANYTHING about a startrap at the audition or when they called me to tell me what part I was playing. Luckily I grew to love doing it despite always wanting to jump off at the last possible moment before I was launched into the air. It was all timed that when Munk sang, ďÖgreat Rumpus Cat!Ē they wouldnít pull the pin to the weights until these two red lights that were right in front of me were turned off. So I did have a warning of when I was to be launched. Still, it wasnít until I was in the air that I was able to breathe again. Waiting for the Macavity scare right after Skimbleshanks. I would sit above the stage left audience seats and watch the number and think all kinds of silly things like what the theater looked like before Cats, how many people had performed on the stage, what I was going to have to eat after the show (McDonalds, of course), and lots of other things. It was a moment all to myself and I thought it was pretty cool. Occasionally Iíd catch someone looking up at me, but Iíd just make a face at them. Waiting to go on for the Macavity fight scene and having two mice run across my feet. I had to laugh because had I been a real cat, I wouldnít have screamed. I would have chased them. Meeting Gillian Lynne for the first time at one of our rehearsals. She was amazing and was exactly as everyone had described her to be. What a thrill it was to work with herÖÖ.and have her yell at me because my hands were in the wrong place. Selling signed posters during intermission and getting to talk to everyone, especially the kids. I thought it was great that they allowed people onstage during intermission anyway and I got to meet some very special people over the week I helped sell.

Dee: Finally, if the chance arose, would you ever agree to be in Cats again, and if so, under what circumstances and what character?

KW: I had thought about that, being in another production of Cats, and I think that I would, only under the circumstances of something like the Westchester production [played in summer 2002]. Only because Richard and Suzanne [Viverito] are involved in the show and there are lots of friends who are doing it. It would be fun to work with them again. But doing the show would never be the same as it was on Broadway. That was definitely the ultimate production, aside from London. I had a blast doing it then and I just donít know if anything else would be as good. Iíd hate to be let down by doing a less than wonderful version of the show. If I were ever to do it again, Iíd definitely want to be Plato/Macavity again. I really enjoyed doing those roles.

Dee: Thank you, Keith, for your time, and we hope to see you onstage again soon!

Keith and myself at the stage door of the WGT

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