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‘CATS’ meow

David Steinberg

Kathryn Holtkamp has a New Mexico homecoming this weekend. The Los Alamos native will be on the Popejoy Hall stage for five performances in a national touring production of “CATS.”...

But there will be greater personal meaning – and perhaps a tingle of excitement – when Holtkamp sets foot on the Popejoy stage.

“It’s really special because the very first show I saw as a kid was ‘CATS’ at Popejoy, so it’s like coming around full circle,” Holtkamp said in a phone interview. “It inspired me to go into the arts. And now I get to perform in the place where I first saw it.”

Holtkamp portrays the character of Grizabella, who sings what is probably the most recognized song from the musical, “Memory.”

Grizabella is known as the “glamour cat.” She left her tribe to make a name for herself in the world. She’s returned but remains an outcast in cat society. All she wants is to be accepted.

“Grizabella isn’t a role that I expected to play,” Holtkamp said. “I am normally cast as the ingenue in a soprano-y type of role. This is definitely a stretch for me, but I’m managing it.”

Having worked on the show for many years, Richard Stafford, the director of the touring production, said “when someone walks into the room and sings ‘Memory,’ I know right off the bat if I want to hear them continue singing it.”

He distinctly remembers when Holtkamp sang it in his presence: “She was captivating for me. She brought that poignant quality that one wants to feel, the strength and the backbone.”

Stafford said Holtkamp also brings other desirable qualities to the role, among them depth of feeling, understanding of the character and emotional impact.

Holtkamp’s passage from youthful “CATS” patron to adult “CATS” performer required many stops along the way. In middle school she did speech and debate competitions to help her gain confidence as a public speaker. At Los Alamos High School, she joined the after-school drama program called Olions in which students produced their own shows.

She also studied piano, taking lessons from many teachers who also instilled in her a love of the arts.

Holtkamp’s goal was to study theater in college but because she didn’t have any formal training, she decided to audition for admission to the Idyllwild Arts Academy in California for her senior year of high school. The academy accepted her and she entered its theater program. At the end of her senior year she went to Chicago to audition in front of, as she put it, “all the colleges of your choice.”

A funny thing happened. She ended up at the College of Santa Fe.

“It’s an excellent program and I got a great scholarship,” Holtkamp said. “I didn’t originally apply there but the woman from the college auditioning people saw that I was from Los Alamos and had seen me in Olions productions.”

During two years at CSF she did a lot of technical work on dramatic plays and was in two musicals, “Urinetown” and “The Boy Friend.”

At that point, Holtkamp enrolled at New York City’s American Musical and Dramatic Academy and finished its program. Her first major job was at the end of the national tour of “Evita,” playing the role of Juan Peron’s mistress.

Then Holtkamp did a few off-Broadway gigs, followed by six months as a soloist in a show at Tokyo Disney.

“CATS” is about the members of the tribe of Jellicle Cats who are gathering on the one night of the year that they reunite to celebrate their individuality – their special abilities and traits. The show presents musical vignettes of many of the tribe’s cats’ stories.

There’s the prankster Rum Tum Tugger, the villainous Macavity, Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat, and the venerable Old Deuteronomy, among others.

Stafford said the touring production is going to cities where it’s been before and to cities where it’s never visited. Mindful of that fact, he wants the show to retain its magic for both categories of patrons.

“I don’t want (returnees) to be disappointed and say, ‘The last time it was so much better,’ ” Stafford said.

“And for those who haven’t seen the show I try to see it through fresh eyes. I want them to get the most out of the show as they possibly can.

“I want people to walk away happy and enriched by this piece and that it does speak to them. I hope that happens in Albuquerque,” he added.

That means all the technical aspects that go into the stagecraft have to be maintained by the touring crew.

The musical, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, opened in London’s West End in 1981 and then came to Broadway the next year. It won a Tony for Best Musical.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical is based on T.S. Eliot’s whimsical poems “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats,” though Grizabella was not among them.

WHEN: 8 tonight, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, June 4, and 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sunday, June 5
WHERE: Popejoy Hall, Center for the Arts, UNM campus
HOW MUCH: $40, $50 and $65 in advance at the ticket office in the UNM Bookstore, by calling 925-5858 or toll-free 877-664-8661, by visiting, at area Albertsons supermarkets or at the door. For group orders of 15 or more call 344-1779

CATS-Eye LLC is the producer of the touring production.

Photo Credit – Grizabella (Los Alamos native Kathryn Holtkamp) sings the song “Memory” in “CATS.”
Cutline – Los Alamos native Kathryn Holtkamp portrays Grizabella in “CATS.”

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