THEATRE COMPANY TO PERFORM ‘CATS’ AT BAMA THEATRE
One of Broadway’s biggest classics is coming to the Druid City next week.
Complete with iconic musical numbers, intense acrobatics and an all-star local cast, “CATS” director Joey Lay has worked to create a rendition of the show that the Actor’s Charitable Theatre (ACT) has never seen. One of the longest-running shows in Broadway history, “CATS” tells the tale of how one fortunate feline finds themselves chosen to ascend to begin a new life on the other side of a rather bleak, troublesome world.
With 34 actors, dancers and acrobats set to pack the Bama Theatre stage, choreographer Melissa Verzino said the production is one of the most endurance-driven shows the ACT has produced. One number in particular, she said, is sure to wow the audience.
“The Jellicle Ball sequence is 10 minutes of all-out dancing,” Verzino, who also owns the Tuscaloosa Dance Centre, said in a press release. “It’s known as one of, if not the most, physically demanding dance sequences in musical theatre, requiring incredible strength, skill and endurance.”
Each featured cast member has their own talents and traits that they apply to their cat character, one of a tribe called the Jellicles, and the first act of the show serves as an all-out celebration of their unique identities. With these identities are trios of names the cats use to identify themselves. According to the musical’s official website, each cat calls themselves by one of three names: “the one the family uses daily, a more dignified name, and a secret name. It is the contemplation of these secret names that keeps felines deep in thought.”
As the cats’ celebration comes to a close, the conflict presents itself as such: only one cat is permitted to take a chance on a new life in the “Heaviside Layer.” This is decided by Old Deuteronomy, the wise, beloved patriarchal figure of the musical. Performed by Lay himself, Old Deuteronomy has the final word on whose Heaviside audition is deemed worthy enough for a shot at a new beginning.
“I have dreamed of doing this show for decades,” he said in a press release. “This is my third time working on a “CATS” production, and I’m so thrilled to finally get to actually be in the performance – even if it means I have to wear a unitard.”
Like “CATS,” Lay is no stranger to the stage – having worked on more than 100 productions over at least two decades, he has worked to make CATS an event to remember. And with the musical being one of the longest-living and most renowned shows on stage, Lay surely has a reputation to live up to.
The original musical was created by Andrew Lloyd Webber, an impresario most notably known for works like “Phantom of the Opera” and “Evita.” Lloyd Webber reinvents T.S. Eliot’s poetry from “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” to imagine a life seen only through vertically-irised eyes.
According to a press release, “[I]n London’s West End and Broadway history, (“CATS”) received its world premiere at the New London Theatre in 1981 where it played for 21 record-breaking years and almost 9,000 performances. The ground-breaking production was the winner of the Olivier and Evening Standard Awards for Best Musical. In 1983, the Broadway production became the recipient of seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and ran for 18 years.” With performances in over 30 countries, 15 languages and seen by more than 73 million people, the musical is a magnet for music and performance awards.
Awards aside, actress Bethany Knight said the ACT’s production of “CATS” has cultivated a familial energy that lands the entire experience as one of her favorite shows to perform. Her role of the elusive, jaded Demeter, requires a polished technique for dance and larger-than-life vocal range, two skills with which Knight hopes to impress the audience.
“I have never been so in love with a rehearsal process in all my years of theatre,” Knight, a sophomore vocal performance major at the University of Alabama, said. “The best thing has been watching myself and the rest of the cast slowly learn to move their bodies like cats, and then as their specific character on top of that. The unscripted moments in this show are everywhere and many of them are simply each actor losing themselves in their character and creating art with their bodies. I just hope what I bring to the stage does justice to the legacy this show holds.”
Perhaps one of the most memorable numbers in “CATS” is the appropriately-named “Memory,” sung by Grizabella, a seemingly washed-up former Glamour Cat who wants nothing but acceptance from the Jellicles. Performed by Beth Feller, Grizabella’s tearfully bittersweet ballad has been covered off-stage by more than 150 artists, from Barbara Streisand to Barry Manilow. The University of Alabama alumna said she hopes to bring as much heart and emotion as music star Jennifer Hudson is anticipated to deliver in the 2019 cinematic rendition of the play. To accomplish this, Feller has a familiar face to look to for inspiration.
“My favorite part of rehearsing for “CATS” is watching a cast with diverse backgrounds come together as artists and performers,” Feller said. “I am also especially grateful to share this experience with my daughter, Kate, who plays one of the kittens. Often misunderstood and disliked by the other cats, Grizabella usually turns to the five kittens to seek acceptance. Kate and I share a beautiful moment just before I sing ‘Memory,’ where I reach for the kitten who happens to be my daughter in real life.”
“CATS” will take to the Bama Theatre stage for five performances between Sept. 6 and Sept. 9, with four 7:30 p.m. showings and one Sunday 2:30 matinee. Tickets are on sale now.