She's still putting her best four feet forward

EIGHT TIMES A WEEK, MARLÉNE Danielle slips into her skintight red-and-black costume and for the next 150 minutes slinks around the stage of Broadway's Winter Garden Theater as sex kitten Bombalurina in Cats. Call it typecasting. "I'm a creature of comfort," says the singer-dancer, curled up on an armchair in her Jersey City house with three of her own 11 cats. "And a creature of habit." Certainly she has the numbers to prove it: Except for her annual two-week vacation, Danielle has been suiting up for almost 14 years and as of April 1—barring an unforeseen accident—will have made her 4,648th appearance in the show, thereby setting a record for longest-running performer in a single role on Broadway. She is one of only two Cats cast members (the other, understudy Susan Powers) who have stuck with the production since opening night, Oct. 7, 1982—it's Broadway's third-longest-running show. "For me it's stability, the chance to live a normal life like people who go to an office," says Danielle, who won't reveal her age in either human or cat years. "It hasn't always been that way." Born and raised in New York City, she dreamed of being a ballerina, and in 1978 she apprenticed with the Dance Theater of Harlem but was too tall and muscular to thrive there. When a teacher suggested she'd find more work in musicals than in classical dance, Danielle listened. Though she was married at the time (she divorced in 1985) and had a son to help support—Benjamin, now 22—she left the Harlem troupe and began hitting auditions. During the next few years she landed roles in shows on and off Broadway, including Little Shop of Horrors and a revival of West Side Story. Then in 1981, Danielle auditioned for the New York production of Cats. Though she didn't get a part immediately, choreographer Gillian Lynne did cast her in the show before it opened the following year. "Marléne still has pride in what she's doing," says Lynne. "She has remained fresh in the role." No problem doing that, says Danielle, whose performances have now been seen by an estimated 6,700,000 theatergoers. "I love cats. I love their movement and mystique." And, she says, "I happen to be a Leo."

PETER CASTRO
ANTHONY DUIGNAN-CABRERA in Jersey City

  • Contributors:
  • Anthony Duignan-Cabrera.