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Iconic role: ‘Cats’ star proud to ‘carry the legacy forward’

Stepping into an iconic role, there’s always some trepidation.

Yet Keri René Fuller accepted the challenge of portraying Grizabella in “Cats” with an understanding of where she’s coming from.

The Tony Award-winning – and long-running – musical was composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber and based on T.S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.”

It tells the story of a tribe of cats called the Jellicles and the night they make the “Jellicle choice” and decide which cat will ascend to the Heaviside layer and come back to a new life.

Grizabella is known as the Glamour Cat. She seeks acceptance from the other Jellicle cats but is ostracized.

“It’s really interesting. I remember growing up and not really having the most solid friendship group,” Fuller says. “I am an only child, and my dad is a teacher and when you go to school where your dad teaches, it’s not good. I got a lot of backlash from other students. Later in life, I found a group of friends that I was able to click with, and they became part of my tribe. I can only imagine how Griz felt to be ostracized. I still learn a lot from her every single day. She’s very relatable.”

Rehearsals for the national tour began in December, with the tour beginning on Jan. 11.

It has been presented in over 30 countries, has been translated into 15 languages, and has been seen by more than 73 million people worldwide.

Originally directed by Trevor Nunn with choreography and associate direction by Gillian Lynne, scenic and costume design by John Napier, lighting design by David Hersey, and sound design by Abe Jacob, the musical opened in the West End in 1981. In 1982, it debuted on Broadway, where it won seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Both the original London and Broadway cast recordings won Grammy Awards for Best Cast Album.

The original Broadway production at the Winter Garden Theatre ran for 7,485 performances and 18 years.

“Cats” was originally produced on Broadway by Cameron Mackintosh, The Really Useful Company Ltd., David Geffen, and The Shubert Organization.

It returned to Broadway in 2016 in a stunning revival at the Neil Simon Theatre. Preview performances began Thursday, July 14, 2016, and the show officially opened on Sunday, July 31, 2016.

“Cats” played its final performance on Dec. 30, 2017, after 16 previews and 593 regular performances.

Fuller is following in the footsteps of iconic women such as Elaine Paige and Betty Buckley, both of whom have portrayed Grizabella.

She did feel some pressure because she’s playing a character that is older.

“Because the national tour is a refreshed take of what ‘Cats’ is, we’ve had the freedom to play a little with some things,” she says. “My Grizabella doesn’t have the elderly feel to her. I still have the same wigs, and there is graying in the wig. I take everything I’ve learned in life in my short time on earth and apply it to what Griz has been through on the other side of the tracks.”

Fuller says the musical continues to find new generations of fans because it has a universal appeal.

“We’ve all been outcasts at some point and are looking for acceptance,” she says. “This musical represents the creative highs from the early 1980s on Broadway. It’s iconic in every sense, and I feel a great responsibility to carry the legacy forward.”

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