PJ DiGaetano remembers trying to copy the choreography of “CATS” in his room when he was younger. Now 21, he is a performer for the “CATS” Broadway tour, which is making its way through the United States and will make a stop in McAllen this weekend.
“I remember doing all the dance steps in my room — I was a kid and I wanted to be in the show so badly,” said DiGaetano, a Florida native. “And now, I get to do it eight times a week and travel the country. I am playing my dream role, for sure.”
The long-running classic by Andrew Lloyd Webber, which is most recognized for the song “Memory,” has received seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
“CATS,” which has a run time of around 2 hours and 20 minutes, takes place over the course of a night. The play is set in a junkyard, where cats introduce themselves by song, attempting to prove to Deuteronomy (a wise and kind cat) why he should choose them to enter Heaviside Layer (the cat equivalent of heaven).
DiGaetano plays Mr. Mistoffelees, a lovable, black and white magical cat.
“He uses magic and has powers; he is mischievous, but also very endearing,” he said. “Throughout the show, Mistoffelees does a lot of magic tricks, but at the end of the show, he kind of saves the day, while still being modest and humble.”
In playing Mr. Mistoffelees, DiGaetano has an eight-minute dance solo at the end of the show, and he said that though playing the part requires hard work and tedious practice, it’s his favorite part.
“I get to do so many magic tricks, and I get to turn and kick and leap,” DiGaetano said. “And I just get to have a good time as Mr. Mistofelees. In the number, there is so much joy that I get to give the audience, and I also get to feel so much back.”
Though this is DiGaetano’s first time performing with Broadway, playing Mr. Mistofelees is not new to him. Before he was casted for the national tour, he played the character on the Royal Carribean Oasis of the Seas cruise in 2018.
“CATS” performs eight times a week, alongside additional dance rehearsals and vocal practices. But DiGaetano does not get tired of it.
“Seeing and hearing and feeling the energy of the audience is just so riveting,” he said. “Because it’s not everyday that you see 22 adults on stage in full cat costumes, singing and dancing with their faces fully painted.
“‘CATS’ centers around the themes of acceptance and compassion, and the sense of community and love, which translates not only in their world of cats, but to our world every day. That is what makes this story so timeless.”
The play was inspired by T.S. Eliot’s poem book, “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats,” and has 23 musical numbers throughout both acts.
“It’s one of those shows that you could bring your 3-year-old to, and your 97-year-old grandma, too — it’s a show for everyone,” DiGaetano said. “It’s a show that you are going to walk out of singing all the songs, trying to do the choreography and dress as any of the cats for Halloween.”