Get to Know Cats Duo Jess LeProtto & Shonica Gooden
Jess LeProtto & Shonica Gooden (Photo: Caitlin McNaney) Related Shows Show Closed This production ended its run on Dec. 30, 2017 Cats View Comments Of all the frisky felines in Cats, Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer are the biggest mischief-makers, grabbing Sunday dinner from the oven one minute and swiping a string of pearls the next. These show-stopping cats are played by two of Broadway’s best young dancers, Jess LeProtto and Shonica Gooden, who share their characters’ sassy chemistry. LeProtto, a finalist on So You Think You Can Dance, is a vet of Newsies and On the Town; Gooden is savoring her first featured role on Broadway after appearing in the ensembles of Bring It On, Cinderella and Hamilton. The co-stars recently chatted with Broadway.com about the nuttiness of getting into character, those unforgettable Andrew Lloyd Webber melodies and their purrfect (sorry!) stage pairing. Q: First things first: Are you a cat person?SHONICA: I am not a cat person, but I play one at night! I just think they’re strange creatures. They’re creepy. They’re not as fun-loving as dogs.JESS: Yes, I am a cat person. No, I don’t have a cat, but I know a lot of people who do, and I’ve always loved just seeing them do their own thing. In our show, we crawl around all over the place, and pretty much that’s what cats do in real life, so I’m like, “Yes! You live your life, cat!”Q: How do you get into character?JESS: Cats have relaxed hands, so we have to lead with the wrists, and we lead with our ears. Our ears are not like human ears—we have them up above a little more, so just getting into that world physically from the outside is good exercise.SHONICA: My cat place stars in my gut. It starts in my stomach with a contraction and then it flows up through my ears, through my paws, and she becomes Rumpleteazer.Q: What’s it like to be part of a cast of grownups dressed as cats? SHONICA: There was one moment during our rehearsal/preview period where none of us had our costumes on; we just had the cat face and the wig. Seeing each other with normal clothes and then the cat face and the wig was so crazy! When they say, “Take a five-minute break,” everybody immediately comes out of “cat” and they’re talking like regular people. It’s the most bizarre thing.JESS: From the other perspective, during tech rehearsals, we had crew members and creative team members on stage and it was like, “Humans! Get them offstage! This is our place. Get out of our junkyard.” Q: You are so well matched as Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer. What makes the two of you such a good pair?SHONICA: Just the fact that we’re friends outside of the show. We met doing American Dance Machine, and within that process, I got to know Jess as this fun-loving guy. I always knew he was talented, but actually getting to know him, I was like, “Oh this is going to be great.” And then we bonded on comedy, which is so fitting for our characters.JESS: We’re able to adapt to each other’s sensibilities as people, as actors and as cats when we’re performing. Shonica has this dynamic personality that shines through her eyes. It blossoms, and in a way, I can take that excitement and delightfulness and apply it to what I do. We’re connected to each other’s strengths and vulnerabilities.Q: That sense of trust is obvious during your signature musical number. JESS: The number that we do is cardio-driven, it’s stamina-driven, and it’s the only moment in the show that there are two cats singing their song when no one else is on stage. To demand that attention, you really need to ground yourself into the material and know that these confident little kittens are going to steal the show right now.SHONICA: I think of them as very adventurous teenagers. They’re exploring the world, and if that means they get into a little trouble, they’re not afraid of that because that’s what makes their life so incredibly exciting.Q: Cats is filled with songs that stick in the mind. How do you deal with that? JESS: You just let it ride. If I get off the subway after the show, I’ll have the opening stuck in my head: “Practical cats, dramatical cats.” Just roll with it. It has this effect on people because Andrew Lloyd Webber’s score is so beautifully written and so attractive to the ear. He knows how to get the audience’s attention by high stakes and by lush scoring that’s so captivating.SHONICA: I just try to remember to have normalcy in my life, especially now that I’m playing a cat on stage. When I go home, I do other things, whether it’s reading a book on the train or listening to a different piece of music or watching an action movie. I try to remind myself that I am a human first and an artist second. Q: Tell us about your path to Broadway as a dancer. SHONICA I knew I wanted to dance right out of college, but I thought musical theater people were so weird! They were always excited, whereas I grew up in the concert dance world where everybody was very serious. Then I did Bring It On: The Musical and I fell in love with the world and the people. When I got Cinderella, I was like, “OK, God, I guess this is what I’m supposed to be doing.”JESS: I started dancing when I was three, and when I was about seven or eight, I started getting into the business. I was also doing competitive dancing. I knew that I was different—I was kind of cute and quirky, and I found a way to incorporate that into my professional career. I grew up doing a lot of research on choreographers and dancers of an older generation, and I’d like to represent that somehow.SHONICA: You do it very well, and I’m not saying this because he’s my partner in crime. If you walk into an audition, there is no other guy in the room that moves like Jess LeProtto. We always say we both were born in the wrong generation. I was supposed to be with the Debbie Allen generation. He was supposed to be Jerome Robbins, all the classic guys.JESS: I could say the same for Shonica. She doesn’t dance like any other dancer on Broadway. I’m a very lucky partner because the dynamic she brings—not just her beautiful voice, but the way she puts herself out there—you know you’re going to have a good time each night. She delivers, and that makes you want to deliver even more.