WHAT: Batavia Players Summer Youth Theater production of CATS
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Aug. 18-20th at 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: Batavia High School auditorium, 260 State St., Batavia
For most musical theater productions, the actors prepare by learning their lines, listening to show tunes, and practicing choreography. However, this year's Batavia Players Summer Youth Theater production of CATS required some slightly unorthodox preparation: the 64 young people who make up the cast got into character by watching their pets.
"Since I have three cats at home, it was easy to observe their movements and their habits and to draw from that to create my character," said Maryssa Peirick, who has the role of Victoria. This is not Peirick's first time playing a feline on stage: "I played the Cat in the Hat in "Seussical the Musical," though he's a very different kind of cat, and the Cheshire Cat in "Alice in Wonderland," who actually does have catlike mannerisms."
Those cast members who live in cat-less homes, such as Batavia High senior Melzie Case, were forced to draw their inspiration from "cat lessons" and multiple viewings of the 1998 movie.
"It was rather challenging at first to act like a cat," said Case, who portrays "motherly" cat Jellyrolum. "The arm and leg movements are obviously much more different than those of humans. You also have to crawl on the ground instead of simply walking, and it's also good to scratch your 'fleas' every now and then."
CATS, which opens tonight, is an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical that is based on T.S. Eliot's "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats." The show first opened in the West End in 1981 and then on Broadway in 1982. Its 18-year run made it the second-longest running show in Broadway history, and it has won numerous awards, including the Laurence Olivier Award and the Tony Award for Best Musical.
Peirick, a recent Batavia High grad who is headed to Fredonia in the fall to major in vocal performance, said she was not immediately thrilled when she heard CATS had been chosen as the summer show despite its popularity.
"Initially I was completely repelled by it, but as auditions neared and I watched more, I became slowly interested in the characters, who seem to have quite extensive back stories -- even if not all of them are known," she said. "Though it is seriously lacking in plot, it makes up for it in creativity and visual entertainment, so there really is no such thing as a boring moment."
Director Pat Burk said he chose the show because of its uniqueness.
"It is a dream show that needs to be done correctly in order to be effective on stage," he explained. "It also allows for a large cast and you can do a tremendous amount with dance and music because it is an all-dance, all-music show. It is more like a modern opera."
The extensive dancing could easily have been a problem, but the young actors handled it like pros.
"It's so different from conventional theater, and because we're a community theater youth production, we simply don't have professional dancers to fill up the stage," Peirick said. "However, long hours of intense dance rehearsals have caused everyone to really come together and make the choreography come to life. I'm constantly impressed with my fellow cast members' progress."
Burk says he has been very impressed with the young actors' hard work and character interpretations, and is confident that the production will be a success.
"Judging from pre-sale tickets, which are more than double of last year's show, it will be well-received. The dress rehearsal went extremely well and it is quite a magical show."
The only downside to the experience?
"Now that we've been acting like cats for so long, we're starting to act like cats in real life!" Case said.
Tickets for CATS can be purchased online at www.showtix4u.com or by calling 1-866-967-8167.