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The Rum Tum Tugger is a Curious Cat: John O’Hara interview  
In the first of our interviews with the Cats Asia Pacific touring cast we spoke to John O'Hara, who plays The Rum Tum Tugger.
John O'Hara

The Show

How long have you been in the show? I started with the show in late 2006 and toured throughout 2007 as a swing performer. I left the tour to do The Rocky Horror Show. I then returned as Rum Tum Tugger in 2009.

How long does it take to get into your costume and have your makeup done each evening? I arrive at the theatre two hours before curtain up. I have a very specific routine and get very annoyed if I get out of sync… it goes a little something like this: makeup, physical warm up, vocal warm up, spacing, microphone, wig, wee, costume… in that order!

How do you perfect your cat-like moves? In rehearsal we have huge amounts of time set aside to study ‘the cat’. We look at behaviour, anatomy and our own character traits. It’s funny how aware of cats you become… I can’t walk by a pet shop without having a look at the kittens.

How does it feel to be portraying a Cat?! Wonderful! It’s very liberating to get be an animal every night. Cats are intriguing animals and not everyone is ‘a cat person’ so I find that an interesting dynamic.

How long do you typically rehearse for a show like Cats? We have big rehearsal periods when we are starting a new season or if someone new is coming into the cast. A rehearsal day usually consists of an intense warm up/ conditioning session followed by vocal cleanup calls and intense work on a specific part of the show. I love rehearsals because it’s a chance to break things down and find new ways to do things. Also, when we get a new cast member, your relationship changes with the person playing the character, this keeps things fresh.

What is your favourite song in the show? My favourite song in the show is ‘Macavity’. I watch from the wings. The brass in the orchestration is so jazzy and the girls are smoking hot… great vocals, great choreography, hot hot hot!

What do you like most and least about performing this role? What I like most about the role is that I get to live out my ultimate rock star fantasy every night… who doesn’t secretly want to be a rock star right?! What I like least is that sometimes it just hurts my body!

If you could play any other Cat, who would it be?
If I were a better dancer and about a foot shorter I would love to be Mungojerrie. He’s so much fun and I love the number he and Rumpleteazer do.

If you could ask the original creative team behind the show any question about your character, what would it be? Well, we’re very lucky because we work directly with Jo-Anne Robinson who worked on the original production. She gives us such insight into what went on in those early days and answers our many questions. I know that Tugger was loosely based on a version of Mick Jagger but I’d love to sit with them and ask what other rockers influenced Tugger. I have such specific ideas about who I want my version of the role to emulate… I’d love to know if they agree!

Being on tour

What do you like most and least about being on tour?
What I like most is that tour is so social, it’s so much fun exploring a new city with your mates. Also, the friends you make on tour are like no other… you all go through so much together. What I like least is that I miss my family terribly. Sometimes it literally hurts to miss out on the goings on of family life… thank god for Skype.

Which city or venue have you most enjoyed performing in on this tour? Oh that is so hard! I have to say though that the closing night ovation from the crowd in Hong Kong was pretty special. We had our wigs off backstage and the crowd was still hooting. When we came out of stage door the sea of people was overwhelming. Hong Kong is a great city… I could easily live there.

If you could perform this role anywhere in the world, where would it be?
That’s easy! London, West End… where it all began!

How often do you get to go home?
Well home for me is a bit complicated. I grew up in Perth but I live in Melbourne… I have done for nearly ten years. The work opportunities are better in Melbourne but all my family are still in Perth. I try to get home to Perth at least once a year… lately that’s been challenging. Whenever the show is on a break I’m back in my flat in Melbourne.

How do you typically prepare for a performance? Do you have any rituals?
Preparation for me is really a life style. I can’t do what is required of me if I’m not well rested, well fed and fighting fit. When we’re in ‘show mode’ my whole day revolves around my performance. Once I get to the theatre I like to keep pretty quiet while I prepare… often my iPod is in and I just go about my routine.

Do you get nervous before a show?
Absolutely! Every night! Once I get out there though I’m fine.

How do you unwind after a performance? I love a drink but it’s hard to only have one! I love my TV series… my latest obsessions are True Blood and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Oh and a shower is the best reward after the show… washing away the show is really cleansing.

How do you keep the show fresh each evening? For me, so much of what I do depends on how the audience reacts. You can never tell who’s going to love you, hate you or challenge you… Tugger gets to actually interact in the audience… I love it when people throw me a curve ball… GAME ON!

Career

Had you seen Cats before appearing in the show?Yes. I saw the Australian ‘big top tour’ and I’d seen the DVD filmed in London.

Was appearing in the show a personal ambition for you? I think for many performers being offered a contract on Cats is important. It’s a show that is very hard and technical. I have never worked so hard in my life but I’ve also never felt as satisfied as I do after a show performing Cats. Playing Tugger is very much a personal achievement. I wanted to get the role so much I could taste it… so yeah, I’m loving it!

What inspired you to pursue a career in musical theatre?
When I was very young I went to see Jesus Christ Superstar at the Perth entertainment centre. Form the moment the lights went down and the music started I froze. Everything about it excited me. The costumes, the singing, the lights, the set. I swore that the woman playing Mary (Kate Cebrano) kept looking at me. I was devastated when it ended. I went straight to the merchandise shop and bought the album and played it to death! I used to rotate between singing the role of Jesus or Judas depending on my mood… my poor brother shared a room with me!

What was your first theatre role? My first professional show was Hair. It was the most wonderful first experience. This big colourful tribe of people singing their hearts out and getting nude! I still look up to so many of the actors in that show and to David Atkins (director) for giving me my first job.

Who has been the biggest influence on your career? It’s so hard to name just one. I think it’s often the people who are hardest on you that actually end up influencing you the most. I’ve worked with some wonderfully ‘hard’ people who’ve bought things out in me I didn’t know were there. Ross Coleman, Gale Edwards, David Atkins and Jo-Anne Robinson are all up there and I thank them for it!

What would your dream role be? I’ve never really had one. I wanted to do Jesus Christ Superstar and I have. I played ‘Peter’ in the South African tour, that was pretty special. I would love to do Rent, Rock of Ages or We Will Rock You… I just love singing rock!

How would you spend your perfect day off?
Boozy lunch in the sun followed by a swim and a snuggle with someone special.

What would your ambitions be after appearing in Cats?
To go on a long tropical holiday with daily massages… and to keep performing and singing great material!

Posted on: 2nd March 2010

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