by Andrew Lloyd Webber

August 2007 @ 8:00 P.M.

Heather Healy in Cats
Heather Healey in Cats

Anatomy of a Hit Musical

Starting a new theatrical company can be a daunting task at any time, but never one to take the easy route I decided to fill our first season with some difficult shows, including Hamlet, my adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, Private Lives, a one man show that I wrote called The Hack and of course; Cats.

Musicals are a hybrid theatrical creation. Music, song and dance, and acting. I had never produced a musical before so, I needed a lot of help to pull this off. We had a small theatre which sat less than 200 people. It would have to pretty much be an in-your-face type of show.

Bring on the dancers

One huge obstacle to doing a musical like Cats in Kingston besides that it had never been done was the heavy emphasis on dance it needed. For amateur dancers, the discipline needed to match step for step is more than most dancers have experienced for a full 90 minute show. There certainly were a lot of talented dancers and singers in the community, but we needed someone to take the helm of this ship.

Travis Seetoo in rehearsal for Cats
Travis Seetoo in rehearsal for Cats

Enter Ebon

I approached Michael Catlin about directing and Michael agreed to join the show as an advisor but he recommended his choreographer from West Side Story; Ebon Gage. I had heard good reports about Ebon. Musical Director Ian Juby was put in place and lighting director David L Smith. The designated producer Barbara Bell did some early work but unfortunately, she became ill so Anne Marie Mortensen took over and did the lion's share of the production work. Anne Marie Mortensen kept the ship plowing ahead in the right direction with the financial battles to keep costs under control. Anne Marie knew that it was easy for costs to get out of hand so the budget battle was always in play.

A grueling set of auditions, had the best dancers in Kingston in the show. Many talented people did not make the cut. Rehearsals started months before the show.

Ebon worked the kids hard and they loved him for it. While most dance recitals obviously had a weekend show to cap off the year, this would be a three week show that would test the dancer's stamina, patience and fortitude.

Jim Peters waas hired as a stage manager and Jim had certainly been through the wars as a veteran in managing the cast and crew of many shows. Hannah Smith at 13 ran the sound and did a remarkable job.

Where to put the band?
A question had been raised about the band. In such a small space where would we be able to put them? We decided to build scaffolding over the entrance for the five piece band to ait on, and when the band was on that scaffolding was rocking. Pit leader Scott Davey, Greg Runions, Greg Ridge, Liz Tremblay kept the music jumping.

The key to creating a good show is to surround yourself with good people.

Opening Night

From opening night, the word of mouth was phenomenal and the the three weeks were sold out. Ebon Gage had done a great job of marshalling his troups for the show

Barbara Bell had thankfully recovered from her illness to help out at the end for things such as public receptions.

Cats was a physically demanding production that required absolute precision by the dancers in order to avoid injury with the many intricate manouvers demanded of the cast by Ebon.

Anyone who knows the story knows that Cats is a collection of vignettes, or stories about Cats written by TS Elliot. The connection between each vignette can seem tenuous at best. What Ebon did for the cast was to unite them by theme. He had them believing they were Cats. Each performer lived and breathed Cats. 'Paws not claws'. The garbage dump had become a spectacular backdrop for this feline world.

Ebon played the show like a three ring circus where he used distraction to create deception. He was the master carny making cotton candy appear and disappear seemingly before your eyes.

The intimate atmosphere of The Wellington Street Theatre which had seemed a handicap at first became a great strength and the audiences were personally involved with the shows having some very chummy cats on their laps. One older woman I know was thrilled to have rock star cat Rum Tum Tugger on her lap looking for treats.

The expense and time cost of a venture like Cats makes a similar project like Cats in the future, unlikely. It can be done, but a lot of things need to fall in place. The stars need to align.

Take a peek at Cats in Kingston 2007



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