Are you blind when you're born? Can you see in the dark? One of the many few words from the popular hit musical CATS that has entertained millions of audiences across the globe for over thirty plus years.
Now the new national tour (which launched a few years ago) is roaring its way into Philadelphia beginning Tuesday, March 14 through Sunday, March 19 at the Miller Theatre (formerly named Mirriam Theatre). You don't want to miss this show, and I chatted with one of the performers in the show, John Anker Bow, who plays Bustopher Jones/Gus/Peter.
John Anker Bow has a long list of credits which includes many National Tours. His National tour credits include Kinky Boots (George), Ragtime (Henry Ford), A Christmas Carol (Jacob Marley). He got his BA from Rider University and is originally a New Jersey native. He is also the host of Flop of the Heap, about Broaway's biggest flops. Flop of the Heap is available wherever you get your podcasts!
Learn about how this show is put together, how the actors have to do their own makeup and the process that goes into, behind the scenes, and so much more. Make sure you get your tickets to CATS in Philadelphia before they are gone!
What has it been like to be a part of this production of the National tour of CATS?
This is my second year with the tour and this is the longest I’ve ever been on the road with a show. It’s been great revisiting a lot of the cities and theaters I’ve traveled to previously with other tours. It’s a phenomenal cast this season—a really talented bunch of cats!
What do you love most about playing Bustopher Jones (“who’s not skin and bones!”) Gus/ Peter on this tour? What have these roles taught you?
Peter is the cat I play briefly in the opening number and he does the most dancing. Bustopher Jones is so fun to play because he’s enormous. I often say that the wig and the costume do most of the work for me in that role. I’ve known a couple of real-life cats who, shall we say, tipped the scales a bit, and they each have this very distinct waddle when they walk, so I’ve given Bustopher the same sort of toddling stride. Gus the Theatre Cat is my favorite role to play. He’s been described as grumpy, but I like to think of him as lonely and frustrated that he’s past his prime. I think the thing I’ve learned from playing Gus for two years now is how to keep a character fresh. The longer you play a role, the easier it is to get into a rhythm that eventually becomes rote. As his first song begins, I have learned to pull back and let the lyrics come from a place of present storytelling instead of something more overt. His second song is where Gus really gets to relive his glory days and be much more performative.
You will be coming to Philly in the next few weeks. What are you most looking forward to with that and coming back to hometown area? You went to Rider University and grew up in the Hamilton area so it must be nice to be back in that area to an extent.
Absolutely! I grew up visiting Philadelphia and lived there for several years after college as well. For a time I even worked for the Philadelphia Eagles as their Bookmobile Storybook Man - I must have read stories and distributed books to every school in the city! I also used to do phone sales for Walnut Street Theatre, was a tour guide for the old Lights of Liberty walking tour and did catering for the company that did events at the Kimmel Center. The best part about performing here last time with Kinky Boots was being on stage instead of serving champagne in the lobby—and of course it’s always great to see family and friends from Hamilton and Rider too!
What has been your favorite city so far?
Oh that’s a hard question. I really enjoyed New Orleans and Montreal. Los Angeles was a lot of fun as well. Oh, and Spokane! And Savannah!
What is your favorite song in CATS?
I think the song Macavity is the one that gets stuck in my head the most. I really enjoy the woodwind parts in that one.
Have you had any fun surprises on this tour in terms of meeting or getting to hear from Andrew Lloyd Webber, Cameron Mackintosh or any one from the original cast?
During the rehearsal process we got to work with Chrissie Cartwright who has been involved with CATS since 1986 and worked with original choreographer Gillian Lynne. Chrissie has been involved with almost every major production of the show all over the world, as well as the staged version they filmed in 1998—which I grew up watching. This year I discovered that Chrissie was one of the dancers in the "Anything Goes" opening tap sequence in Indiana Jones & the Temple of Doom. Probably not a job at the top of her resume, but definitely one I sort of geeked out over. Andrew Lloyd Webber I believe has been pretty busy getting his production of Bad Cinderella ready for Broadway.
What can audiences expect from this production of CATS? Is it the one they saw on Broadway in 2016?
Yes! This iteration of the show is very much the version one would have seen at the last Broadway revival. It has a few structural changes and updated choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler that I think really give the show a fresh feel. The lighting design is really something audiences are always wowed by—the overall look of the show is incredible.
You all have to apply your own make up before each show—WOW! How long did it take you to learn that and how long does it take to apply?
That’s right! I have never done makeup this elaborate before, so I actually did a virtual makeup session with a drag queen friend of mine who taught me how to blend properly! Our hair and makeup design coordinator Victoria Tinsman does individual tutorials with each cast member during the rehearsal process and teaches us exactly how to achieve the desired look. In my case, I had to learn three different looks for my three characters—Victoria was so patient and is a natural teacher. The makeup for Peter takes about 25 minutes, Bustopher about 15 and Gus another 15 or so—I’ve got to do each look very quickly as the show keeps moving along with or without me!
What is traveling like on a tour? How long do you have between each stop?
It can be exhausting at times and difficult to eat well, exercise, get laundry done and all that regular life stuff. A typical week includes a travel day on Monday, load-in, company meeting and sound check Tuesday, 8 performances Tuesday through Sunday with a load-out Sunday evening. A “split week” schedule includes 2 or more cities in one week, so every time you add a city, you also add another travel day, load-in, company meeting, sound check and load-out. That’s the life of a traveling performer or technician—it’s very much the same as our predecessors who toured the country in vaudeville. It’s not easy, but we do it because we love it.
What are some pre show rituals?
During my vocal warm-up I like to sing at least one song not from the show I’m currently doing. It helps remind me that singing isn’t just my job, it’s what I love to do. I also have a habit of placing googly eyes in funny locations backstage. ;)
Get a sneak peek below!