Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical ‘Cats’ – based on writer T.S Elliot’s ‘Old Possum’s Book Of Practical Cats’ – has been constantly purr-formed (sorry) since it debuted in 1981.
It’s extraordinary popularity has seen it translated into 20 languages and is currently doing the rounds in Australia. Daniel Assetta plays the role of Rum Tum Tugger, a playful cat with a modern twist. “At the end of 2014, Andrew Lloyd Webber put together a revival of ‘Cats’ on the West End that included the updating of one of the characters, Rum Tum Tugger,” Daniel says.
“Basically the character was a rock and roll cat who was based off Jagger and Elvis who were suave and was that kind of era of rock star. The new Rum Tum Tugger is more of a rapping, pop, contemporary street cat. It’s sort of to draw the appeal of younger audiences. It’s quite cool, my number has a rap in it and a hip hop dance break so it’s a lot of fun.”
Younger audiences, especially children, have responded positively to the new Rum Tum Tugger who Daniel believes is relatable because of his cheekiness. “Playing Rum Tum Tugger has been a great opportunity because he’s such a fun character to play. He’s so cheeky and rebellious against everyone on stage.
“It’s fun being so rebellious. He’s the cat that everyone loves but just he does whatever he wants. He kind of goes with the flow and gets in everyone’s business and some people love it but some people are just like ‘Tugger go away’, so it’s a lot of fun.”
A high-energy show with iconic tunes such as ‘Memories’ sung by Grizabella cat, the show also tweaked the character a bit to accommodate a well-known Aussie actress and singer. “The only other update is in the character of Grizabella who is played by Delta Goodrem.
“She’s such a great person to work with and we’ve loved performing alongside her. She’s always busy and doing so many projects but always pulls out an incredible performance every time. The design and look of her character has been updated which makes sense with Delta playing it. Normally Grizabella is played by an older performer who is talking about the day she used to be popular. There’s changes in choreography as well to suit Delta, but there’s still those classic parts as well.”
The show is as well-known for its elaborate costumes as it is for its score, an element of the show that Daniel mostly embraces while acknowledging it does get a little hot under the (flea) collar. “I have two costumes, the first of which is a black unitard. We all have cat wings. We all wear individual cat faces which we put on ourselves which takes around half an hour but also helps us to transform into character. The second costume is the updated Rum Tum Tugger, which has leopard print crotch top pants, sneakers and a yellow uni-tard, chains around my neck, gloves, and a backwards cap. I feel very comfortable in that outfit. A lot of people have asked me if they can get a replica of the outfit! It does get very hot as it’s made out of velvet to resemble fur. It’s a very physical show and we all work pretty hard. You can’t be in the show unless you can sing, dance and act.”
As well as being an entertaining musical, the show does have a serious side. “The show has so many different levels. There is obviously the face value level which is the entertainment factor because the show gives the actors a chance to shine, but also there’s messages throughout the show that a lot of the audiences can take home. Some of the characters go through things within the show that make people feel emotional, especially Grizabella (Delta) singing ‘Emotion’ which provokes a lot of reactions from the audience.”
A multi-talented performer, Daniel has been interested in the arts since the ripe old age of three. “My mum and dad put me in a dance class because I was obsessed with it when I was little. I started singing lessons and any other career option was never a choice for me. I knew I wanted to be singing, dancing and acting and making a living out of it.”
His connections through dance teachers saw him performing with artists like Kelly Rowland and Kate Miller-Heidke. He took part in the hugely successful musical ‘Wicked’ before moving on to his current feline role.
“I came out of my full-time performance art course after school and was lucky enough to be a part of ‘Wicked’ which toured all round Australia and New Zealand. It was kind of surreal because I’ve always wanted to be in a show, so to be in one at the age of 19 and being in one of the biggest shows of this decade was incredible. I had the best time for two years and I learnt so much about the industry and the type of performer that I am and it kind of motivated me… I’ve done quite a lot for a 22-year-old. If you work hard, it does pay off.”
While there are a few updates to make ‘Cats’ more contemporary, the show’s reputation guarantees a varied crowd at performances. “The new elements make it interesting for young people and kids but a lot of elderly people come along too because maybe they saw it in their youth. It’s so entertaining, the costumes are amazing. There’s something for everyone.”
(published 1/Feb/16 http://scenestr.com.au/arts/purred-lines-rum-tum-tugger-s-modernising-cats)