Columbus Children's Theatre's production of "CATS" is set to open on Thursday, May 5.
Director Ryan Scarlata says CCT chose the show because no professional theater company in Central Ohio had done it yet. He also noted that the show caters to the company's audience, many in their 30s and 40s who bring their children, who would remember when the show premiered in the 1980s.
"Regardless of your experience with 'CATS,' everyone has a memory of it," Scarlata says.
Scarlata remembers his father taking him to see the tour when he was in elementary school.
"I was extremely sick and as the show was going on I could feel that I was getting more and more of a fever, my eyes were watering, my throat was burning, but I didn't want to tell my dad because I knew he would make us leave," Scarlata says.
After the performance ended, Scarlata remembers crying, telling his father it was because "the show was really good and I am really sick."
Scarlata describes CCT as a theater for children to see and not necessarily to participate in. The cast of "CATS" is made up of predominately professional adult actors, with the youngest person in the cast at 13 years old.
'We were really just focusing on picking the right actors for the role, regardless of whether or not they were teenagers or adults," Scarlata says.In producing "CATS", the company was given only the musical score without any further directions, leaving a great deal open to interpretation. Instead of the typical junkyard setting of the original production, CCT moves the setting to a deserted circus carnival. With that, they have included the use of silks, lyra, and aerial performers in choreographer Jeff Fouch's original choreography.
Fouch, artistic director for The Columbus Moving Company, brings his experience with the improvisational dance company in his first collaboration with CCT.
He is set to perform in the show, portraying Mr. Mistoffelees, but other CMco dancers were not able to be involved due to scheduling issues.
Fouch says he has been encouraging the actors to improvise their movements, making each performance slightly different while still utilizing the strong in unision choreography that "CATS" centers on.
"What I've really been trying to focus on is allowing them to see the structure, but feel that they have the freedom within the structure to find their own movement choices that tell the story of their character," Fouch says.
Actor Ryan Stem, who is set to portray Old Deutoronomy in his first CCT production, described getting the part as a dream come true as he remembers having a strong reaction to the show as a child after seeing a live performance of it.
"I was so enthralled with the show that I actually went home and built the entire set out of legos and turned my lego people into Cats. I couldn't get enough of it," Stem says. "It's one thing to be in a production of a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical or something that was written long before you were born, but to do a show that came out in one's lifetime is so incredibly special."
Stem, Fouch and Scarlata agreed that the show has a polarizing nature, and people either love it or hate it.
Scarlata believes this is because much of the original choreography was choreographed to just the music before the lyrics were added in, with the two not necessarily matching up and making the show confusing.
"Typically people who aren't fans of 'CATS' are the ones who are leaving saying 'I don't understand what just happened,'" Scarlata says.
Scarlata and Fouch are working together to make the show a true blend of ballet, opera, and musical theater.
Another deterrent could be that the show requires a hefty dose of suspension of disbelief.
"You have to buy into humans playing Cats andCats that dance extraordinarily well," Stem says.
Fouch hopes to reveal a human element in the performances.
"We're creating moments that have a real human quality to them," Fouch says. "Each cat has a personality of a person that probably you know in your life."
Underneath the intricate costuming and makeup and elaborate choreography, Scarlata sees the overarching themes, which he thinks are important to communicate to children.
"The big message of the show is acceptance, and the true meaning of happiness is being able to share happiness with others," Scarlata says.
CCT's production of "CATS" is a 150 minute, two-act perfomance, including an intermission. Performances of "CATS" are set to take place May 5-15 at the Lincoln Theatre, 769 E. Long St. with shows on Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30, Saturdays at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. Ticket prices range from $17-30. For more information, refer to the CCT website.
Photo Credit: David Heasley