Actor Jason Wise has never been hired to play a human.
He was a penguin who danced the Charleston in an off-Broadway production of Irma la Douce; a tumbling monkey in a Disney cruise ship production of Toy Story 3 the Musical, and for the last two years he's been the cat Tumblebrutus in a national tour of Cats now on its way to the Hobby Center.
Wise grew up in a small town in upstate New York, and began auditioning when he was a child in New York City after a theater summer camp stay opened his eyes to how he could go about getting a professional part.
When he first asked his father to take him to auditions, his father said no, that he had work and his son had school.
But when Wise got an audition for the Radio City Christmas spectacular, He convinced his father to take him. "He pulled me out of school for the audition, and he called in sick, and there was like 500 kids there," says Wise. "I ended up making it to the end of the day. There was only like 10 of us left. So we drove home from New York and we started thinking, maybe we're on to something here."
He and his father started making secret trips to NYC and got to know the city really well. Which helped out a lot when Wise started skipping school in his last year of high school to get on a Greyhound bus all by himself and audition for Broadway shows.
"I auditioned for Cats when I was 16. I made it to the end and got cut," Wise said. The same thing happened the next year. By this time, he'd graduated high school a year early and was attending the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York. Through one of his teachers he got the chance to do Irma La Douce.
Wise tried out again for Cats and made it to the end again, but heard nothing back. So he took a job with Disney on its cruise line. He'd never gone to Disney World or Disneyland, so he says his first experience with Mickey Mouse was "seeing him undress and take his head off during a dress rehearsal."
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It was a year later, while Wise was still on the cruise ship, that he got a phone call out of the blue. "They say, 'We want you to join the tour.' That just goes to show you," Wise warns, "never change your phone number."
"Tumblebrutus is like a teenager," says Wise. "He's kind of a juvenile delinquent. He's always seeing how far he can go. He scratches other cats then runs away. I get to walk on my hands and flip around a lot. He's the punk that everyone went to high school with."
Wise thinks everyone should come see this version of Cats because it's the only one that's been endorsed by Andrew Lloyd Webber, who wrote "Memory" and all the rest of the music for the show. The Broadway version of Cats closed in 2000, so, as Wise points out, even if you wanted, you couldn't see it there anymore. But, he adds: "If you saw it [on Broadway] when you were an adult and you want to bring your kids back to experience the same afternoon you had at the theater, you have an opportunity to do that at the Hobby Center."
Running from April 12-17, there will be eight performances of Cats at the Hobby Center. Ticket information is available at thehobbycenter.org or by calling 800-982-2787.