What: “Cats”

When: Opens 7:30 p.m. Friday; additional performances 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 20-22

Where: Tower Theatre, 835 NW Wall St., Bend

Cost: $27 to $42 plus fees

Contact: towertheatre.org or 541-317-0700

If you’ve heard quite a few Andrew Lloyd Webber melodies lilting through the Central Oregon air lately, you’re not alone. Ray Solley has noticed too.

“It seems like there’s almost an Andrew Lloyd Webber-a-thon going on,” said Solley, executive director of the Tower Theatre Foundation, the nonprofit that runs the historic downtown Bend theater. Lloyd Webber’s “Cats,” one of the longest-running Broadway musicals of all time, makes its Central Oregon premiere there on Friday.

Along with “Cats,” Solley was making reference to recent productions of “Evita,” which ran at the Tower in June, and “Jesus Christ Superstar,” staged in Drake Park less than a month ago, both scored by Lloyd Webber, also known for the music of the Broadway classic “The Phantom of the Opera.”

Thoroughly Modern Productions produced “Evita,” and now brings “Cats” to life as part of its ongoing partnership with the Tower. Last September, the two offered “Rock of Ages,” a rock musical set in the 1980s.

“We wanted something that, after last year’s production, was an American theatrical classic, and we wanted to step up the production values and the level of community involvement,” Solley said. “There are only a small handful that are at the top of the list, that are the classics and must-sees. And ‘Cats’ is certainly one of them.”

The show is based on the T.S. Eliot poem collection “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” and tells the story of the Jellicles, a tribe of junkyard cats, on the occasion of the Jellicle Ball. They await a decision from their leader, Old Deuteronomy, as to which among them will ascend to the Heaviside Layer to be reborn in a new life.

“Typically a lot of people, even people that see the show, say, ‘Well, that was really not about anything,’ said director David DaCosta, laughing. “It’s a story about life, about the basics of life. On the surface, yeah, it’s about cats, and that’s what makes it unique. If you own a cat, or have ever owned a cat, or even if you don’t like cats, you’re going to recognize the nuances and tendencies and all that. In that aspect, it’s just pure fun.

“But in the end,” he continued, “when you follow how it’s being put together and what’s being said, it’s about those basic elements of life, and it’s all connected.”

Whether you’re human or feline, “there are certain markers to life that we go through. There’s beauty and messiness in life, and we’re all just kind of traveling through this together. That’s pretty deeply profound, and I don’t think the show intends to hit you over the head with that. I think it’s just what you absorb over the course of it.”

“I think sometimes audiences appreciate that. There’s so much heavy-handedness,” he said. “There are shows about dysfunctional homes, disease and French revolutions. It’s nice every once in a while to sit back and absorb some entertainment that pulls on your heartstrings, your emotions. You may not know why or how it does it, or at the end you’re like, ‘OK, I’m not sure quite what they were trying to say,’ sometimes that’s not a bad thing.”

To be sure, there’s a story taking place inside that junkyard set designed by Gary Loddo — which, by the way, plays like yet another character in the show, according to DaCosta.

“The loose story that exists there is Grizabella is moving on — to the next life, the afterlife,” he said. “Again, it’s open to your interpretation. … And in the end with (the song) ‘Memory,’ she kind of comes to the conclusion, ‘Yeah, I’m ready for this.’ I think it’s a path that everybody takes, and is recognizable. In between the lines there, there’s just a lot of fun stuff going on.”

For DaCosta and Solley, having Bend performer Mollie Tennant, a veteran Vegas and cruise ship performer, committed to the role of Grizabella, aka The Glamour Cat, was critical.

“It’s really, really key to have her,” DaCosta said, also noting the demanding roles played by the other 25 cast members. An 18-instrument orchestra will fill the pit.

“I’ve been a professional singer my whole life,” said Tennant, 55. “It’s a classic, sought-after female role. When you’re younger, it’s not really attainable. But as you get older it’s one of those classic roles, kind of one of those dream roles of being able to finally play it, because you’re the right age and you bring that experience and feel to the role.

“She’s The Old Glamour Cat. It’s a little typecasting for me, but I’ll take it,” she added laughing.

Tennant saw “Cats” in 1985 as a young tourist visiting London.

“Back then, it was THE musical. … I remember just sitting there watching it in London, and I don’t think my mouth closed the whole time. My jaw was just dropped because I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” she said. “It was just different. There were literally cats crawling around the stage and through the audience, and it really made an impact on me. … It’s just wonderful now, years and years later — oh my gosh, I’m so excited to play Grizabella.”

Solley believes the “unique theatricality” of Webber’s work accounts for its longevity. In fact, a film version of “Cats” is expected out sometime next year.

“I think that’s in production now, although I sent Mollie Tennant a note saying, ‘You know, you really should get the audition tape out and get it over to them,’” Solley said, laughing.

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