In the North American touring company of the musical “Cats,” Milwaukee native Indalecio De Jesús Valentín is the chief, Old Deuteronomy, the elder who will decide which Jellicle cat gets to have another life.
“He is wise and loving and commanding,” with understanding and empathy for all the kitties, Valentin said.
Valentín returns home to perform Tuesday through Sunday at the Marcus Performing Arts Center, 929 N. Water St., as part of its Broadway series. His cluster of family and friends in the audience could include some of the former students he taught or coached at several local schools, including Notre Dame School of Milwaukee.
The “Cats” tour publicity proudly proclaims that Valentín is the first Latino actor to play Old Deuteronomy in a national production.
“That means I get to be what I never got to see on stage when I was studying musical theater,” he said.
“That’s really what pushes me through a lot of performances on this tour,” he continued. “Seeing one little brown face in a box on the side or seeing just like the one girl with her natural hair sitting next to her dad.”
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Valentín also sees himself as adding to the legacy of Ken Page, the first person of color to play the Old Deuteronomy role. “And I’m proud of that.”
He makes a tangible connection to his role’s legacy each time he puts on Old Deuteronomy’s shaggy costume, which has been worn by several previous performers. “It’s huge and it’s fuzzy and it’s very warm, and it has withstood the test of time,” he said.
It’s also lighter than it might appear: Valentin weighed it recently at 13 pounds.
“Cats,” which premiered on London’s West End in 1981, is a familiar musical to many, especially for the frequently performed ballad “Memory.” Does Valentín have any secret tips for watching the show?
Many characters in the musical have different levels of relationships within the show, he said. “If you watch closely, you could see more than one story happening throughout the entire thing.”
Impishly, he also said that Old Deuteronomy has three sons among the cats in the show, but audience members will have to watch to figure out who they are.
Contact Jim Higgins at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @jhiggy.
If you go
The national touring company performs “Cats” May 10-15 at the Marcus Performing Arts Center, 929 N. Water St. For tickets, visit marcuscenter.org or call (414) 273-7206.