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Novi actress has many lives in "Cats"

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

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When it comes to her tenure with "Cats," Erin Chupinsky is more Bombalurina or Demeter than, say, Jemima.

The Livonia native and Novi High School graduate comes to town this week in her fifth run with the famed Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, a theater staple since it debuted in London 38 years ago and won a batch of Tony Awards on Broadway, including Best Musical. "Cats" — which also has been adapted into a film that comes out Dec. 20 — was Chupinsky's first ever national tour, during 2006. She met her husband, musician Andrew Zinsmeister, in a 2008 company.

In this year's production, which premieres a new look, sound design and choreography elements, Chupinsky is a swing and dance captain. And though it's been nearly eight years since her last go-round, it also feels like she never left.

"There's been lots of 'Cats' in my life — it's been the thread that's connected the dots," Chupinsky says by phone from the current tour's stop in Chicago. "I like the challenge of the piece. I like that the work that the cast gets to do is such a group effort. It's a tribe. And it's a piece of theater that's so iconic. To do it once, twice, more is a gift. It still speaks to people.

"And now people who saw me do it a decade ago are bringing their kids to see it. That's pretty cool."

Chupinsky is also jazzed by the tweaks that have been made in the current version of the show, especially on the dance end, where choreographer Andy Blankenbeuhler has updated Gillian Lynne's original approach.

"It doesn't feel like we just remounted some antiquated piece of musical theater," Chupinsky says. "It seems more energized, perhaps a testament to the more modern elements that have been added. It feels like there's more going on all the time.

"It's more work for me as a dance captain — and, of course, I’m a little older and asking my body and my mind to do more than I did back then. But it's a fun new challenge, which is what I'm always looking for."

Chupinsky's love of theater began when she "was obsessed with 'The Sound of Music' when I was just learning to talk and would watch it over and over and over again. My mom likes to say I wore through two or three VHS tapes of it." Her parents enrolled her in dance classes just before her third birthday and in a youth camp at Northville's Marquis Theatre when Chupinsky was 7 years old. Two years later, she was in a production of "The Wizard of Oz," and "at that point I fell in love with it," she recalls.

"It was just always what I did. I was lucky to have parents who supported me."

Not surprisingly Chupinsky studied theater at Western Michigan University and spent a semester at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts. Since then Chupinsky — who's also a yogi and triathlete who's run 27 marathons — has acted in 35 countries on five continents, as well as in 48 U.S. states. Her résumé includes "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" Off-Broadway, the U.S. premiere tour of Webber's "Phantom of the Opera" sequel "Love Never Dies," "Hello, Dolly!" with Sally Struthers, the first national tour of "Wonderful Town" and "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels."

"Cats," of course, feels a bit like home for her, but the return has also reminded Chupinsky about the worst part of the production — the limitations of actually being made up as a cat.

"It takes a little while to put it together, and my eyes get real sensitive to the makeup" she notes. "And if it's a two-show day, you can't go outside unless you take the makeup off — and then you have to come back and do it all over again.

"But the good news is it's comfortable. We're in stretch (fabric), not tight corsets or anything like that, and jazz shoes. I love a flat jazz shoe. So there's plus."

"Cats" runs Tuesday, Sept. 3, through Sept. 15 at the Fisher Theatre, 3011 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit. Tickets are $35 and up at 313-872-1000 or broadwayindetroit.com.

Web Site: www.broadwayindetroit.com

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