CATS is Coming to Walton Arts Center Stage
Actress Keri René Fuller talks about her role as forlorn, ballad singing Grizabella, whose ‘eye twist[s] like a crooked pin’
Article By Marisa Lytle of Celebrate Arkansas
It must be nerve racking to walk up on stage and sing one of the most beloved musical theater songs of all time, feeling the weight of living up to the great iconic Broadway performers who have gone before you. Yet, for Keri René Fuller, who plays the role of Grizabella in the national touring production of Cats, getting to sing Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Memory” eight times a week is an incredibly rewarding experience that she never thought she would have.
“It’s a very high-pressure moment,” Fuller explains, “because it’s what people wait to hear every night, and these amazing iconic women have sung this song before me. For me to join that canon is hard to wrap my head around. As I’m singing, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for my role, for the show, for my castmates. I think even though it debuted in the 1980s, the song still resonates in 2019.”
Cats is the winner of seven Tony Awards® including Best Musical and tells the story of one magical night when an extraordinary tribe of cats gathers for its annual ball to rejoice and decide which cat will be reborn. This classic musical with original score by Webber and original scenic and costume design by John Napier has itself been reborn for a new generation with all-new lighting design by Natasha Katz (Aladdin), all-new sound design by Mick Potter, new choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler (Hamilton) based on the original choreography by Gillian Lynne (Phantom), and direction by Trevor Nunn.
Fuller describes her character Grizabella as an incredibly complex character, despite the fact she is only onstage five times throughout the show. She is full of regret and loneliness, pining for the days of her youth when she was happy and accepted by her tribe. A major plotline of Cats centers on the tribe’s forgiveness of Grizabella and her being chosen by Old Deuteronomy to be sent to the Heaviside Layer to be reborn.
“I learn something new from her every performance,” Fuller says. “Where we find her in the show, she is unapologetically asking for what she wants in life, which is asking to be a part of a tribe of cats that she used to be a part of.” Interestingly, Grizabella the “Glamour Cat” does not appear in T.S. Eliot’s work Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats on which the musical is based, but rather is the feline version of a woman referenced in Eliot’s poem “Rhapsody on a Windy Night.”
Fuller dances as young, carefree “Baby Griz” in the opening number, but her official entrance is as an old, withered Grizabella whose ragged appearance repulses her fellow Jellicle cats. Fuller says it takes her a full two hours to get into character for Grizabella, including warming up her body and voice, applying her own extensive cat makeup, and putting on her costume consisting of a furry coat, little black dress, unitard, stockings, high heels, gloves, braided tail, cat ears and a curly, gray wig. Fuller has no more than 12 minutes to change from her Baby Griz costume into mature Grizabella.
“Before this production, I never was able to do a cat eye,” she laughs, “but now I can, no problem.”
Fuller says audiences who come see Cats will benefit from taking two-and-a-half hours out of their week to experience a story that’s lighthearted, nostalgic, and multi-generational.
“We’re not all going to be the same,” she says, explaining a central message of Cats. “We’re not all going to receive other people the same way in life. There’s something beautiful about acceptance, and power doesn’t come from taking and taking and taking, but through living a giving lifestyle.”
Hometown: Bethany, Oklahoma
Career: Has lived three years in NYC, where she works both on Broadway and regionally, as well as leading professional workshops and labs around the city. She is one of the staple voices used in the NYU Graduate Music Theatre Writing Program and performs in their thesis presentations and records demos for both the students’ and professors’ projects.
Broadway credits: Waitress (Francine & Jenna understudy)
Regional credits: Murder Ballad (Sara), Les Misérables (Eponine), Lizzie Borden (Lizzie), Hunchback of Notre Dame (Esmeralda), Dogfight (Rose), A Chorus Line (Maggie).
Hobbies and interests: plants, coffee shops, books, yoga studios/fitness regimens, and friends