Kim Craven has never performed in a production of “Cats.”
“I feel like I have though,” she says with a laugh. “I have taught every role in the show.”
Craven is the associate choreographer for the national tour of “Cats,” which is coming to Hershey Theatre on Tuesday for a six-day run.
Tony Award winner Andy “Blankenbuehler”. (“Hamilton”) is the lead choreographer for the show as well as the upcoming movie version of “Cats,” coming out in December.
He and Craven had worked together on the 2016 “Cats” Broadway revival.
“Andy asked me to come in and help with (the revival), and I became the resident choreographer,” Craven says.
Now, she is overseeing the national tour. While she is not always on the road with the cast, she checks in periodically to make sure the dance-intensive show is being performed correctly.
Craven began her career as a ballet dancer and segued into commercial dance and then musical theater. After meeting dancer and choreographer Twyla Tharp when she was in “Movin’ Out,” Craven became her associate and worked with her for eight years.
She believes Tharp’s work would not have been possible without “Cats.”
“(The show) set the groundwork for things,” she says. “It paved the way for what Twyla did — two hours of nonstop dance. It changed the way theater has been told after that.”
The choreography in “Cats” is largely based on the original work of Gillian Lynne.
Blankenbuehler has added an edgy, funky vibe to some of the numbers and individual characters, especially the splashier ones, such as Rum Tum Tugger, who loves to be the center of attention, and Mungojerrie, a troublemaker who is part of a notorious duo of cat burglars along with Rumpleteazer.
The rehearsals were intense.
“You teach it all to the dancers and then say, ‘This is the part you do.’ Put together from the beginning, everyone has a moment to shine — that’s layered in,” she says. “Andy worked a lot on showing the dancers that at times they needed to be a solid tribe and other times they can be individuals.
“It can be very technical — here is where your hand is placed, here’s where your foot goes.”
And it isn’t only dancing.
“The singing is really difficult, really high,” Craven says. “Half the dancers we see can’t get beyond that step. I always think during an audition, ‘Please don’t make me fall in love with them before I hear whether they can sing.’ It breaks my heart.”
The music for “Cats,” which ran on Broadway from 1982 through 2000, was written by Andrew Lloyd Webber, based on the 1939 poetry book, “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats,” by T.S. Eliot.
It tells the story of a tribe of cats called the Jellicles, who meet in a junkyard for a magical night. They are deciding who among them will be sent to cat heaven, so they can come back with a new life.
There isn’t much of a plot. Each of the cats tells his or her story.
There’s Bustopher Jones, a fat, upper-class cat who is respected by all and enjoys dining at his gentleman’s club.
Jennyanydots, also known as the Old Gumbie Cat, seems very lazy all day but becomes quite the mouser at night.
Asparagus (Gus), the Theatre Cat, is frail and elderly. He loves to talk about the old days, when he was a famous stage actor.
Macavity is a notorious criminal, Mr. Mistoffelees is learning how to control his magical powers. Skimbleshanks, who is also known as the Railway Cat, is an active orange tabby who lives on a mail train, much beloved by the station employees.
And Grizabella is a former Glamour Cat who has seen better days. The Jellicles reject her, though their leader, Old Deuteronomy, keeps trying to get them all to accept her. She gets to sing the most famous song from the show, “Memory.”
Cast members have to learn how cats move.
“At the beginning of rehearsals (director) Trevor Nunn spent hours talking about felinicity,” Craven says. “They are crawling around as cats. How do you hold your neck, your hand? Watch them move, eat, sleep, deal with prey.”
Perhaps the biggest challenge of all is making it all look real.
“If they look too human it breaks the magic, it becomes affected,” she says. “There is a fine line between looking feline and awkwardness.”
All the cats are onstage during the whole show, and they must remain in character.
“They are in an extreme position,” Craven says. “It’s a pose that’s unnatural. You get beat up after a couple years of doing this.”
But Craven sees “Cats” as a special show.
“At the end, the show is about redemption, transcendence,” she says. “I am excited the tour is doing so well, that the public is still interested in seeing it.”