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It was 1997. Valentine’s Day. In a fit of romance, my boyfriend Jeff Melby and I went on a date to see the Broadway musical Cats. As it would happen, us uncultured college kids were unimpressed with the Chicago production. Pretty sure we almost left at intermission, but instead we stayed put in our balcony seats alllll the way at the top. Our poverty mindsets accompanied us. (You can’t pay good money for the cheap seats and then just leave if you hate the show!) For years we laughed about the experience and made fun of the Andrew Lloyd Webber creation. (Please forgive me, sir!)

Flash forward 19 years. It was 2016. Jeff and I were traveling solo on a cruise to celebrate our 17th anniversary. (Yep, we’re actually that old). When I saw that Cats was the Broadway show on our cruise, I was crushed. Still, I wanted to see it since each night’s entertainment is one of my favorite parts of a trip. During dinner, I had assured Jeff that if our meal ran late and caused us to miss the show I wouldn’t be too terribly disappointed. As it turned out, we not only made it on time, we scored excellent seats around the 5th-ish row.

So the show began and the glowing-eyed cast made their way to the stage through the aisles and stealthily climbing over seats. 5 minutes in, I grabbed Jeff by the arm and exclaimed “I love this so much!” He was in total agreement. The show was incredible. The set, the singing, the dancing, the costumes, the make-up. Sitting so close was amazing because we could literally see their facial expressions (which were hysterical). And witnessing the choreography up close was breathtaking. Our nosebleed seats from a couple decades prior provided none of that. Throughout the performance, I kept my eyes on the sultry brown cat. She was my fave. Brown Cat had such control and grace in her fluid dance movements. I was in awe. And inspired by how hard the performers worked to train their bodies to be such powerhouses.

After this jaw-dropping musical (and our opportunity to snap a pic with Old Deuteronomy!), I spent the week fangirling over the Cats cast members and chasing any opportunity possible to see the talented artists perform on other stages throughout the ship. From headliner shows to 70’s revues and aerial acts to sequined-pants duets, we were there for all of it!

But it was on our actual anniversary (September 6th) that all the stars aligned. We managed to snag two spots at the elite Chef’s Table to be accompanied by 10 strangers. This was a dinner known to be expertly prepared, each course complimented by a wine selected by a sommelier. Having never experienced anything like it, we were psyched for the event.

So Jeff and I arrived and were the first to be seated. Next walked in my favorite dancer from the Cats show (Brown Cat!) and her parents (Anna and Peter) who were visiting her for the week from New Zealand (My dad’s homeland!). Then, two more cats came moseying in and joined our party! Amy and Billy were cast members we’d met a couple nights before at the 70’s revue. Ah! I was so excited to share an expectantly amazing meal with all of them! The chef came out to tell us how each course was prepared and with what ingredients. And the wine connoisseur described the flavors of each selection that was served and explained why it was a great pairing with the course. Everything was truly delicious, but it was definitely overshadowed by the fantastic conversation.

We got to hear all the behind-the-scenes info about Cats; their living quarters (Super tiny and everyone except the singers had roommates); relationships (No cast members had hooked up); getting hired and training (They practiced the show in Miami for a couple months before they moved onto the ship); nametags (Singers didn’t have to wear nametags, but dancers did); their plans after their contract ended (Amy from NZ headed to Australia for a show while Amy and Billy from England didn’t yet know where they’d be performing next). In addition, I heard from Anna and Peter that my dad’s family name is considered royalty, and I learned all about giving a hongi. After sufficiently stuffing ourselves full (thank God for a loose, swing dress), we called it a night and bid our new friends farewell.

Thankfully, however, our time with them didn’t end at that table. We ran into them all multiple times on the 7,000-person cruise ship and ended up returning to see the musical for a second time seated in the front row next to Anna and Peter.

Our feline friends even invited us up onto the stage for some photos with the cast!

As it was the last night of the cruise, we sadly had to say goodbye to those crazy cats. But thankfully, social media makes it possible to stay in touch. So we have! In fact, we’ve seen 3 of the cruise cast members on land since our first encounter with them on ship. Like when we randomly saw Anton (the star of the aerial show on the cruise) in Milwaukee at Cirque du Soleil Corteo!

Or when I caught up with Amy and Billy at Ice Bar in London!

Though we’ve been formally invited to New Zealand, that trip is gonna have to remain on my bucket list for a bit still. But make no mistake that I’ll get there someday to see my dad’s homestead, to meet my Nuku family, and to visit Anna and Peter! Also, Germany is a must in order to see Amy (Brown Cat) and her new husband!

This serendipitous meeting with these stars made our trip and our life richer. It was such a beautiful reminder that friendships can be built and cultivated literally anywhere in the world. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to have our paths cross and I cannot wait to hug these people again someday!

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