PROVIDENCE — When he was a boy growing up in Charlotte, N.C., Tion Gaston dreamed of becoming a Major League Baseball player. But during long stretches waiting for his sister to finish her dance classes, young Tion, tired of hanging out in the lobby, walked into the class and experienced a whole new world.
“I told my mom, ‘I don’t want to do baseball anymore, I want to dance,’” Gaston said one morning last week from the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where he was in between rehearsals.
Next Tuesday, Gaston will dance the night away at the Providence Performing Arts Center, along with the rest of the cast of “CATS,” when the first ever Broadway revival of the musical opens as part of the Taco/White Family Foundation Broadway Series.
Gaston, an undergraduate student at Point Park University, where he is majoring in dance, will play the part of Mistoffelees, one of the primary characters in the musical, composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber and based on T. S. Eliot’s poetry book “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.”
A dancer whose regional credits include “Brigadoon,” Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” and “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” Gaston said he’s ecstatic to be embarking on this new journey with “CATS,” and excited to play the part of magical Mistoffelees.
“He’s a sly one,” said Gaston with a chuckle. “He’s chill and fun and doesn’t follow any agenda.”
“He’s a magical cat,” he added, “and he does a lot of dancing.”
Calling the show’s choreographer, Andy Blankenbuehler, “a genius,” Gaston said he dances for close to 30 minutes straight during the show.
Featuring new sound design, direction, and choreography, the creative team for the PPAC production of “CATS” includes, along with Blankenbuehler, John Napier (scenic and costume design), Natasha Katz (lighting design) and Mick Potter (sound design), and is based on the original choreography by Gillian Lynne, and direction by Trevor Nunn.
The original Broadway production opened in 1982 at Broadway’s Winter Garden Theatre, where it ran for 7,485 performances and 18 years. “CATS,” was originally produced on Broadway by Cameron Mackintosh, The Really Useful Company Limited, David Geffen, and The Shubert Organization.
The show returned to Broadway in 2016 in a revival at the Neil Simon Theatre. Since its world premiere, “CATS” has been presented in more than 30 countries, has been translated into 15 languages, and has been seen by more than 73 million people worldwide.
“CATS” won seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical in 1982, and both the original London and Broadway cast recordings won Grammy Awards for Best Cast Album. CATS’ hit song, “Memory,” has been recorded by more than 150 artists, from Barbra Streisand and Johnny Mathis to Liberace and Barry Manilow.
The Tony Award-winning Best Musical held the title of longest-running musical in Broadway history until it was surpassed in 2006 by Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera.” The original Broadway production closed on Sept. 10, 2000, and is currently the fourth longest-running show in Broadway history. This marks the first tour of the first-ever Broadway revival of the iconic musical. The first-ever, live-action film adaptation of CATS, produced by Universal Pictures and Working Title, will open next December.
“‘CATS’ is such a fun show,” said Gaston. “It’s very individual in a way but it’s also a big story about redemption.”
“We’re a tribe of cats who learn to come together ... it really defines what happens in a family,” he said.
You don’t have to be a cat-lover to enjoy the show either, Gaston said, “you only have to come with an open mind.”
In August, the show heads to Gaston’s hometown of Charlotte, N.C. His mom, sister and “grandma papa” will all be in the audience, along with dozens of students from Miss Donna’s School of Dance.
“It’s where I started,” he said. “I’ll be very excited to see them.”