BWW Interview: Eloise Kropp Taps Against the Clock as Jennyanydots in Broadway's CATS
After her breakout performance as Ruby in last season's toe-tapping revival of Dames At Sea, Eloise Kropp joins a cast of exceptional dancers and singers in the new Broadway revival of CATS.
CATS marks Eloise's third Broadway show in just two years, having also danced in the hit revival of On The Town. But it was her expert tap dancing skills in Dames that really put her on the map. In her big number "Star Tar," she executed lightning fast and intricate tap rhythms worthy of Eleanor Powell and Ann Miller from MGM's musical heyday.
Playing the role of endearing cat Jennyanydots, she once again gets to let loose with her tap-happy feet. I spoke with Eloise just after opening night to talk about her journey with the show.
Congratulations on your opening night of CATS. It must've been an exciting week.
Thank you. It was truly one of the most rewarding opening nights I've ever experienced. It's such a family type of experience seeing so many performers from other shows, the gypsy robe ceremony and many dancers celebrating their Broadway debuts. We all worked so hard to open it and were literally exhausted, so when we finally got there it was very emotional.
We also had a very short preview period. Broadway shows normally have at least three to four weeks of previews but we only had two. While we were working to honor the original production, the creative team also wanted to give a fresh look to the show. It was a bit stressful at times as we were making major changes daily in regards to music and choreography. We actually never did the same show twice.
What was your first experience with CATS? Have you ever seen a professional production of it before?
No, I haven't. But I did do what I thought was a production of CATS when I was in seventh grade. It was a thirty minute abridged version of the show that my teacher had created. It had the opening number, Rum Tum Tugger, and Memory, followed by the closing.
So when I was auditioning for this revival I was very perplexed because at that point I was being seen for Rumpelteazer. I thought to myself, but CATS only has four characters and it's a one-act play. I had no idea it was a full book musical. You have to understand that I came to New York when I was sixteen and the show was already closed. My roommate finally made me sit down and watch the version of CATS that's out on DVD.
In T.S. Eliot's poem "The Old Gumbie Cat" the character of Jennyanydots is described as an older, motherly, and large tabby cat. What was your reaction when you offered that part?
I was shocked. By that time I had been going in for so many different roles during the auditions that I was starting to get confused. I had an idea in mind of which cat I should be but I started to think that I might not get cast. Then at the very end I was asked to come in for Jennyanydots. And I was like, "What?" Jennyanydots is the old cat!" They informed me that the character does a little tap dancing and ended up teaching me all the music at my final callback.
The next day I received a call and was offered the role. It was so surprising as I kind of had written it off the night before. I resigned myself to the fact that I'd learned a lot during the audition process and met so many great people but it was totally over. So I guess you could say I was super-shocked.
Did they make any changes to your number from the original production?
The original version of the number was more about the dancing cockroaches and the mice rather than the focus being on the clock. The Jennyanydots character danced with them group-wise and ordered them around. Our choreographer, Andy Blankenbeuhler, has now re-imagined it with Jenny having her own moment as she tap dances against the clock to get all the tasks done before the alarm goes off. Essentially meaning that it's time for her to go back to sleep.
I'm guessing he worked with your strengths as a tap dancer?
Yes he did. The new tap choreography is very rhythmic. I start off slow and then I take my coat off and everything becomes heightened and energized. Balls are flying, people are cleaning things, and it all becomes quite exciting and chaotic. At the end of the number the clock rings and it's one big celebration.
Speaking of your coat, how does that big costume feel?
The coat is very heavy and I think it weighs about thirty pounds. It's made of real wool with wire inside it to keep it really big. I'm essentially wearing three costumes at the top of the number. I have my normal cat unitard on with the fringe jumpsuit over that, and then the coat over that. It's like a boiler room in there and it was definitely a challenge at first.
What's it like to dance with over twenty performers in CATS versus the six-member cast of DAMES AT SEA?
I love being with a big group of people for a show. Especially with this production because it is truly an ensemble piece. With Dames at Sea there may have only been six of us, but we were all really featured. I feel the same way with CATS; everyone is a featured player as well. We're all onstage all the time working super-hard so the show itself kind of builds a sense of camaraderie. It makes us even closer. I'm lucky to be among a cast that is insanely talented and really driven.
Who do you credit your dance training to?
Most of my training back home in Oklahoma was from Amy Reed, Jonathan Beck Reed, Lyn Cramer, Karen Boyd and Sara Reed. We also had professionals coming in to do master classes and set choreography on us all the time. I took the opportunity to attend conventions outside of the studio to learn new styles as well.
I also attended the University of Oklahoma. I chose their musical theatre program because I wanted to focus on my weaknesses, which were singing and acting. So in addition to getting a variety of dance classes I also received a very well rounded musical theatre education.
Now that you've had a taste of some plumb roles on Broadway, is there a dream part you'd like to play?
I'd have to say any classical movie musical role. I love the role of Polly in Crazy For You and Kathy from Singin' In The Rain. I guess anything that has exciting dance and a classic feel. That's where I like to live. I always say that any musical after 1960 is most likely a show I won't do. I usually tend to get cast in revivals or old-school types of shows. I grew up watching the MGM musicals with my idols Vera Ellen, Eleanor Powell and Cyd Charrise. I'm in love with that time period and I always felt I was born a little too late.