'Cats' has staying power

Just how excited are South Sound theatergoers about "Cats," a musical that's almost 30 years old?

So excited that The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, where a touring production will stop next week, added a third performance — a weekday matinee – and even so, seats are scarce.

So what is it about the Andrew Lloyd Webber spectacle that keeps enthralling audiences?

The prescient answer by The New York Times’ Frank Rich back in 1982: “It’s a musical that transports the audience into a complete fantasy world that could only exist in the theater and yet, these days, only rarely does.”

Michael Rios of New York City, who plays the young cat Pouncival in the touring production, sees it this way: “It changed musical theater history. It’s such an original piece. It’s such a spectacle with the wigs and the costumes and the makeup and the scenery and the dancing.”

Whatever the reason, it’s rare the center adds a performance to one of its season’s shows.

“It’s only happened, I think, twice in the dozen years I’ve been here,” said Kevin Boyer, the center’s marketing director.

That’s partly because logistics don’t often allow an added performance, even if a show sells out. However, the evening performances of “Cats” were nearly sold out when subscription sales opened; there are a few seats available for those performances only because some buyers, particularly from senior centers, switched their tickets to the Tuesday matinee when it was added. But it’s not just the added performance that is rare, Boyer said. It also is unusual for the center to host a show in its main theater for more than one performance.

“We have 1,000 seats, so we’re a fairly good-sized hall for the community we’re in,” he said. “It’s very rare to have someone sit down for several performances in the big hall.”

But demand was there because it’s taken so long for the second longest-running show in Broadway history to make it to Olympia. Center executive director Tom Iovanne said that’s just the way the business works.

“Musical theater producers like to start their tours with multiple-week engagements in major markets, followed by single and split-week engagements, followed by the one- and two-performance markets,” he said. “ ‘Cats’ has been around for many years, demonstrating its staying power.”

Many of the stops on the tour are one-week engagements in major markets throughout North, South and Central Americas, said Rios, interviewed by phone while in Los Angeles, where the show played for two weeks.

“There have been so many famous people at the shows,” he said. “We had Corey Feldman here, and Michael Jackson’s children were here one night.”