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A Cat Chat with Tyler Hanes

Tyler Hanes as Rum Tug Tugger in CATS on Broadway. Photo by Matthew Murphy

Most dancers are fortunate enough to be cast in one Broadway show. Tyler Hanes has been in nine. And the list of impressive credits does not stop at Broadway. Hanes has been in movies, television shows and even produces a new web series. He is well-known in the performing community, and for only great reasons. He’s down to earth, talented and just down right hilarious. (Check out the behind-the-scenes CATS vlog here.)

Currently starring as Rum Tug Tugger in Broadway’s revival of CATS, Hanes chats with Dance Informa about working on a revival versus an original work, working with choreographer of the CATS revival Andy Blankenbuehler, and how he wants his career to take shape in the future.

Tyler Hanes. Photo by Kristin Hoebermann.

Tyler Hanes. Photo by Kristin Hoebermann.

Tell me about your dance background. When did you begin dancing?

“The arts have always been a huge part of my family. I started dance at the age of seven. I am one of seven children, and all four of my sisters danced since they could walk. Since they were so heavily involved in the studio and dance competitions, I always tagged along. I was a very active child and begged the studio owner to let me take ballet. She said ‘no’ at first, but I was very persistent and eventually, she caved in.

Once I started dance class, I couldn’t stop. I had to study all forms of dance, and my mom would drive all over Atlanta to make sure we got the best training offered. I competed in dance competitions during the school year with the Barbara Bramble Dance Center and then would study at the Atlanta Ballet during the summer. When I was 14, I stopped competing and started attending Pebblebrook High School, the Cobb County Center for Excellence in the Performing Arts. It was there that my love for dance expanded and went from being a fun hobby to something I wanted to pursue as a career.”

Who are your biggest dance inspirations?

“Gene Kelly, Bob Fosse, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Andy Blankenbuehler.”

You’ve been in several Broadway shows — some revivals and some original works. What are some of the differences in working on an original work and a revival? Which do you prefer?

“When working on an original work, you really get to create from the ground up. You are very involved in the creation of the world, and your ideas help mold the skeleton of the show. In a revival, the framework has already been established and you are recreating something that has already been done. However, you still get to put your stamp on the role and breathe new life into it. I have been lucky to have been a part of both. Both are incredibly rewarding, but both are also risky because with a revival, you may have to deal with comparisons of the past, and with new works, it may be a huge hit or a huge flop. A lot of actors will tell you that the ultimate goal is to originate a role from the beginning stages of a show, and I would agree with that. But personally, I do love the challenge of making an established character my own and breaking the mold of what’s been done before me.”

Tyler Hanes. Photo by Susan Stripling.

Tyler Hanes. Photo by Susan Stripling.

What is your favorite role you’ve played? What is your dream role?

“My favorite role thus far was Enjolras in Les Miserables. He taught me so much about myself and really changed the way I view the world. He is brave, fearless, driven, passionate, and I have never been more proud of or inspired by a character. The rush I felt from going on that ride night after night was one of the most thrilling things I have ever experienced.

Back in 2004, I was in the original cast of The Boy From Oz on Broadway starring Hugh Jackman. Hugh was by far the best quarterback of any show I have ever done. No one worked harder or was nicer than Hugh. Watching him night after night was a master class in acting. The role of Peter Allen is a beast and one that I hope I will get the opportunity to play. I loved doing that show, and I would love to sink my teeth into that role once I have had a little more life under my belt.

Oh…and Hedwig. I would love to play Hedwig someday.”

How did you feel when you found out you were cast as Rum Tug Tugger in the CATS revival?

“Honestly, I was shocked. I had been in for CATS a bunch of times, but I didn’t realize they were looking at me for Tugger until the very end of my final callback. As I was leaving the callback, Andy stopped me in the hall and asked if I knew any of the Tugger materials. I didn’t but had an Elvis song in my book that I could sing instead. I went back in the room for the whole creative team and performed the song and that was it. I let go of it once I left the room, but a few days later I got the call from my agents with an offer for Tugger and I literally freaked out.

I was confused because I thought I would have to do the Tugger materials again on another day, but he said that after I left the room, casting asked if I should prepare the Tugger materials, and Andrew Lloyd Webber said, ‘No. He is the Rum Tum Tugger.’ This business is so strange sometimes because often times they have you literally jump through hoops for a job and they still have no clue if you are the right person or not. And then, when you least expect it, you walk into the room, do your thing and you are exactly what they are looking for.”

Company of 'CATS' on Broadway Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Company of ‘CATS’ on Broadway Photo by Matthew Murphy.

What was the CATS rehearsal process like? How was it working with choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler?

“The first couple of days of rehearsals were devoted to finding our felinity through improvisation and movement exercises. Trevor Nunn (the director) really wanted us to find our character and also establish a sense of ensemble within the cast. Then, we dove head first into the music for the next couple of days because the music to CATS is just as important as the choreography. After a week of improv, character development and music, we were handed over to Andy.

Andy Blankebuehler is a genius. The way he married the classic CATS choreography that everyone knows to his own ideas is spectacular. He really brought out new elements in the story and updated the language with a variety of different styles ranging from contemporary to funk. Not only does his movement feel amazing to dance, it also helps us communicate the different emotions our characters are feeling throughout the show. Every step is saying something specific, and it furthers the plot in a new way. Rehearsals were fun, collaborative, challenging and fulfilling. Andy really brings out the best in his dancers, and the cast he assembled is one of the most incredible groups of performers I have ever worked with.”

What have been some challenges during the CATS rehearsal and tech process? Are there more challenges because the show is a revival?

“During the mounting of any show, a lot of changes are made on a daily basis. You can never get married to anything because it’s going to change. You may not always know why, but you have to trust the changes and commit to them 100 percent. Personally, I found the tech process for CATS to be relatively easy in comparison to others I’ve previously had. The days were long, and we had to be flexible with everything that was thrown our way, but the atmosphere was always positive and productive from the top down, which made it easy and fun.

My challenges came from my costume. Dancing in a leather jumpsuit, chains, a massive collar made of yak hair and a tail can prove to be difficult at times. And they changed my costume a couple of times throughout the tech process. But, once we settled on the final version of the costume, it all fell into place.”

Tyler Hanes. Photo by Susan Stripling.

Tyler Hanes. Photo by Susan Stripling.

What is your favorite number to perform in CATS, and why?

“’The Jellicle Ball’. Hands down. It is by far the most fun number (aside from ‘The Rum Tum Tugger’), but also it’s the most challenging. You get to dance so many of Gillian Lynne’s iconic moves but also dance a variety of different styles through Andy’s distinct language. And it is the number where the tribe finally comes together as one.”

Have you grown close with any fellow CATS castmates?

“When you do a show, the cast tends to become a family. Since CATS is all about a tribe (The Jellicles), we had to get to know each other rather quickly and become very comfortable with one another. This cast is filled with so many wonderful people, and I am fortunate to have been able to make new friends as well reconnect with old friends through CATS. I am reunited with my Ivy from On The Town, the brilliant Georgina Pazcoguin from New York City Ballet (Victoria), which is always a thrill. I get to be inspired by the next generation dance stars, like Ricky Ubeda (Mr. Mistoffolees) and Kolton Krouse (Tumblebrutus).

But for me, the icing on the cake is working with my best friend, Sara Jean Ford (Jellylorum). We have been best friends since freshman year at Carnegie Mellon University, and we have been dreaming of the day that we would get to share the stage together. When we both booked the show, we couldn’t stop laughing. Sara is one of the most incredible talents in the business, and she simply shines in everything she does. Having her by my side throughout this journey has made me more fearless in my choices, more playful onstage and more confident in my approach to Tugger. Plus, we have an identical sense of humor and couldn’t stop making each other laugh during rehearsals. I highly recommend doing a show with your best friend. I am so lucky to have a friend like Sara, and sharing this experience with her has only bonded us more.”

You’ve also been in several movies and TV shows (I just saw you on The Blacklist the other day!). What is the difference in working on set and working on the stage? Do you love doing one more than the other?

“Depending on what you are doing on camera, the process can be much quicker than theater. If you are acting in a film or TV show, you barely rehearse, and your choices have to be immediate. You have no time to get insecure and in your own way. You shoot the script out of order, and the hours are much longer. However, you get multiple takes and can be more spontaneous and playful. I enjoy it because it gives me an opportunity to try anything and everything in the moment. If you are dancing on film, you still get a rehearsal process similar to rehearsals for a stage show. When I did the Coen Brothers movie, ‘Hail, Caesar!’, we rehearsed for four weeks and shot our number over the course of four days. We did numerous takes and setups of each sequence within the number, but we never filmed the whole number in its entirety in a single take.

When you are doing a Broadway show, you normally rehearse four or five weeks in a rehearsal studio, then you tech for 12 hours a day for a couple of weeks, then you have a preview period where you still rehearse during the day and perform the new changes in the show that night, and after three or four weeks of that, the show is frozen and you open.

Personally, I love the thrill of performing in front of a live audience. Anything can happen in live theater, and I love the routine of eight shows a week.”

Company of 'CATS' on Broadway Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Company of ‘CATS’ on Broadway Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Are there any other projects you’re currently working on?

“Aside from CATS, I am also a producer of a new web series, ‘Ms. Guidance’.

‘Ms. Guidance’ is a show that follows Jenny Bump, a struggling actress, who, after a nervous breakdown on the New York stage, returns to the performing arts boarding school she attended in her youth to act as interim guidance counselor. However, listening to the dreams and ambitions of her students only strokes the dying embers of her own, and soon Jenny is back to her old tricks, scheming for fame and ruining lives — her own included — in the process.

‘Ms. Guidance’ was created by my partner, four-time Emmy nominee Van Hansis and acclaimed downtown playwright, James Ryan Caldwell. We are currently finishing up post-production on Season One and will be releasing it to the world very soon!”

What is your ultimate goal as a Broadway performer? Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

“To me, success in this business is longevity. I would love to still be performing and challenging myself with new and exciting projects in the next 10 years. I admire the careers of Terrence Mann and Tom Hewitt and would love to have a path similar to theirs. They both are extremely talented and versatile but also very kind, generous and down-to-earth. I would also love to have my hand in other aspects of the business as well. I would love to direct and choreograph. I would love to produce. Another passion of mine is teaching, and I hope to be teaching and learning as long as I am living. I want my career to be as versatile as possible and be a jack-of-all-trades. But, above everything else, in 10 years I want to remain happy and healthy and hungry for what life has to offer.”

By Allison Gupton of Dance Informa.

Photo (top): Tyler Hanes as Rum Tug Tugger in ‘CATS’ on Broadway. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

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