Feline fantasy: Recent Otterbein graduate gets to live her dream playing Rumpleteazer in 'Cats'


Last year at this time, Josephine Rose Roberts was a senior at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio.

This year she's playing the mischievous Rumpleteazer in the national tour of Cats.

Her route to the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, which opens tomorrow in the Stranahan Theater, was unexpected, she said in a telephone interview from Lakeland, Fla.

"In order to complete my [bachelor of fine arts] requirements, I had to do an internship in New York, so while I was there, I just went to the Cats audition, because it's my favorite show and I wanted to say I had done it."

To her surprise, Roberts won the role of the Rumpleteazer, who causes all sorts of problems for humans with her partner, Mungojerrie.

Cats, which opened in London in 1981, ran on Broadway for 18 years and more than 7,400 performances, only last month losing its title of "longest-running show on Broadway" to another Lloyd Webber hit, The Phantom of the Opera. It has been performed in more than 20 countries and 250 cities, according to the official Web site, www.reallyuseful.com.

Based on Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, a book of poems written by T.S. Eliot, Lloyd Webber's production is about a tribe called the Jellicle cats, who, on one night a year, gather for the Jellicle ball, where one particular cat is chosen to ascend to the Heaviside Layer (cat heaven), to be reborn.

As the cats gather, they get to show off their particular talents and qualities. Among them are lazy Jennyanydots, the trouble-causing Growltiger, the curious Rum Tum Tugger, the dapper Bustopher Jones, the villainous Macavity, and the Jellicle leader, Old Deuteronomy.

Then there's Grizabella the glamour cat. Once part of the tribe, she left to explore the world.

She, too, comes to the Jellicle Ball, hoping to be welcomed back. Grizabella is the one who gets to sing the show's signature tune: "Memory."

Roberts, who is from Cambridge, Ohio, believes the show's success is a direct result of the multitude of characters. "You could see [Cats] 25 million times and still not be able to pick up every single nuance of each cat."

Many Cats fanatics go to show after show, each time picking a different cat to concentrate on, whether it is in the spotlight or not, she said.

For example, when her character, Rumpleteazer, isn't center stage, she's still in the background, usually causing trouble.

The lyrics say it all: "If the area window was found ajar/ And the basement looked like a field of war/If a tile or two came loose on the roof / Which presently ceased to be waterproof/Then the family would say/ 'It's that horrible cat!/ It was Mungojerrie or Rumpleteazer!' And most of the time/They left it at that."

Along with being a story about felines, Cats is about forgiveness and finding the meaning of happiness, Roberts said.

"Cats are just like humans in the sense that we experience happiness but very rarely look to find the meaning behind it. So in that way, it's just a story about people and how we relate to each other, how we're all part of each other's lives, to forgive and to look forward to our next life."

Cats is scheduled at 8 p.m. tomorrow and 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday in the Stranahan Theater, 4645 Heatherdowns Blvd. Tickets range from $38.50 to $45.50 with additional facility and convenience charges of up to $8.25 per ticket. Only limited seating remains. Information: 419-381-8851.

Contact Nanciann Cherry at: ncherry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6130.