Theater Buff: Ahmad Simmons Debuts in CATS
Purr. Every month, a fabulous actor/singer/dancer fills out editor Matthew Wexler’s nosey little questionnaire and offers a glimpse of what he looks like from a bit closer than the mezzanine. And with all that fur and makeup, we’re happy to strip down Ahmad Simmons as he prepares for his Broadway debut in the much-anticipated revival of CATS.
CATS is a Broadway legacy — when and where did you first see the show and what was your reaction?
My obsession with CATS started back when we performed a part of the opening dance recital with Dian West back home in Texas. I think I was a freshman or sophomore in high school and had just started at the studio. I got the VHS and watched it to see how to paint a unitard to look like a cat but then watched it every night for about a year. I remember playing the jellicle ball over and over again… I couldn’t get enough of it.
Tell us about your audition for the show and your role of “Alonzo.”
When I first saw the audition notice I freaked out. I actually was on a little layoff between tours with Parsons Dance so the timing was perfect. I went to the open call and was immediately terrified. It was actually my first big Broadway audition. The waiting room is my doom… There were over a hundred men. They all seemed to know everything about everything.
My main focus was just to be seen by Andy Blankenbuehler. He is my favorite choreographer. I kept thinking, “no matter what happens, you were in the same room with Andy.” When I got the email saying I was called back I flipped. Then four more rounds later, my life changed! I love playing Alonzo. He’s got a distinct look and gets to really dance a range of emotions. This particular version allows him to be more gritty and aggressive.
This is your Broadway debut… what has surprised you about the rehearsal process?
I was pretty prepared for what the schedule would be from doing some summer stock during college. The most surprising thing to me was the amount of people involved to make a Broadway showhappen. Every department has at least five people in it. That was new for me; especially coming from a concert dance background where it’s normally just the dancers, a choreographer, a composer, and a lighting designer.
There were some harsh words reported in the media about original choreographer Gillian Lynne’s reaction to Andy Blankenbuehler’s additional choreography, telling The Stage, “It makes me feel like I’d like to murder.” How do you think his vocabulary of movement is going to improve upon a classic?
Andy is a master of creating brilliant movement that furthers narrative, bleeds intention, and narrows focus. Those are the main things that make a show like CATS even better that it was before. He has such respect for the original body of work and is treating it with the utmost reverence. Our generation is able to access this story at a pace that suits the audience of today. The expectations are higher so our job is even harder. Loyalists will be able to recognize the CATS they fell in love with while feeling its weight and relevance in today’s society.
Which is your favorite: Places, Intermission or Curtain Call?
Definitely places. Hearing the audience respond the overture gets me so hyped!
The best post-show cocktail in New York City is at:
My new favorite place for a drink is Tanner Smith’s. The drinks are worth the price and the atmosphere is fun. OH, and the nachos are bangin!
After you’ve hit all the traditional sites of New York City, you should totally go to:
Chelsea Market. Because who doesn’t love a ton of options for food and a sample sale.
If I could live anywhere else in the world it would be:
Probably Italy. I’ve never been but the people are beautiful, the language is beautiful, and I love carbs.
My workout “secret” is:
This makes me feel guilty because I haven’t quite found my way to the gym since moving here in August. But… I swear by good vitamins and good natural ingredients.
When I’m looking for a date, nothing attracts me more than:
Creativity! I don’t need anything extravagant but it’s nice to be surprised with an experience that’s more than just dinner and a movie.
My favorite website to visit that you may not have heard of is:
Right now I’d say Wayfair because I just moved and all I ever want to do is shop for furniture online.
People would be surprised to learn that I . . .
Won the gold medal at the World Choir Olympics in Bremen, Germany in 2004 with a professional boys choir I spent 10 years singing in. Texas Boys Choir, represent!
When I was 10, I wanted to be just like:
My great-aunt Yolanda Smith. She was the director of all of the choirs at my church. I used to lock myself in the bathroom, put a shirt on my head (for hair) and wave my arms at the mirror as if I was her directing my own gospel choir. How did it take me seven more years to come out?
Ten years from now I’d like to be:
Giving a new generation of dancers opportunity to realize their dreams in the arts.
Neil Simon Theatre
250 West 52nd Street
Opening night: July 31