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‘Six Degrees’ of ‘Cats’: Allison Janney, Andrew Lloyd Webber Talk ‘Cats’ Movie

Variety logo Variety 4/26/2017 Gordon Cox
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For a group of ultra-wealthy New York theater snobs, the characters in “Six Degrees of Separation” sure do spend a lot of time talking about “Cats.”

In “Six Degrees,” the 1990 John Guare play that opened on Broadway April 25 in a new revival starring Allison Janney and Corey Hawkins, it’s the prospect of a role in a “Cats” film that helps a con man (Hawkins) fleece an Upper East Side couple (Janney and John Benjamin Hickey) and their friends. The “Cats” movie is both a punchline and a recurring symbol of the yearning — for status, for money, for connection — at the play’s core.

For the cast of the new “Six Degrees,” it all leads to an obvious question: Who would you want to play in the “Cats” movie? Janney, for one, doesn’t know — at least not yet. “I am embarrassed to tell you: I never saw ‘Cats,'” she said. “I think I’ve kind of got to, now. I mean, I feel embarrassed that I never saw it the first time!”

Hawkins hasn’t seen it either, but he’s already got his part picked out. “I forget her name, but I want to sing ‘Memory,'” he said with a laugh. “Grizabella! I’ve never seen the show, but I do know that.” Hawkins will have to fight over the Glamour Cat with his “Six Degrees” director, Trip Cullman, who’s also got his eye on the role. “One hundred percent Grizabella,” Cullman said without hesitation.

“I think I’d want to be the pilot of the ship that goes to kitty-cat heaven,” suggested playwright Guare. “So I wouldn’t have to be seen. I can wait in the parking lot.”

“What role did Terry Mann play?” Hickey asked, referring to Terrence Mann, who starred in the original production. “Wasn’t he the rock ‘n’ roll cat? Rum Tum Tugger? Of course I want to play the rock ‘n’ roll cat.”

Is a “Cats” movie even a possibility? Andrew Lloyd Webber, the ultra-successful composer who created the show (and who currently has four productions running on Broadway), has the answer. He wasn’t at the “Six Degrees” opening, but he talked about the prospect of a “Cats” movie in a recent interview with Variety.

“There is a screenplay which I think is remarkable because it actually preserves, and in fact enhances, the T.S. Eliot ingredient,” he said. “I must confess I never thought I’d live to say that, given some of the drafts of ‘Cats’ that have gone around over the years.

“I think the key to the ‘Cats’ movie is going to be: What do they look like?  There were many versions of ‘Cats’ proposed. At the time — and we’re talking 25 years ago — it was going to be traditional animation, which I thought probably would be a very good idea. But now I think that  you can’t do ‘Cats’ with a great deal of CGI. Part of the thing is seeing that they are human beings.”

In any event, Janney and Hawkins might finally get their chance to see the stage show for the first time, since there’s only one degree of separation between the two productions: The stage manager of “Six Degrees” is married to the stage manager for the Broadway revival of “Cats.” The cast of “Cats” even sent the “Six Degrees” team a video message wishing them well on their opening night.

“We are going to ‘Cats,’ ” Hickey pledged at the party — at least if the schedules work out. “We just have to convince Andrew Lloyd Webber to have an Actor’s Fund performance on a Sunday night, so we can all go!”

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