“What is this? Christmas morning? This just doesn’t get old!” is exactly how I felt yesterday at the Meet & Greet totally stoked for the first full company rehearsal day for CATS; the official start of Season Four of Paramount’s Broadway Series! With twelve productions under our belt, perhaps a more jaded take might be considered certainly more sophisticated, but there was none of that from me to behold the gathering of this stunning cast all finally gathered together under one roof. I was self-consciously (obnoxiously!) excited to welcome everyone and thank them for being here. So much has brought us to, what is for me, this end of summer ritual and this culmination of work and planning since February as duly noted by Director Shawn Stengel addressing his company. Shawn immediately took on the aspect of CATS’ duality as a legendary Broadway success and the kind of showbiz punchline it has become; “I laughed, I cried. It was better than CATS!” Indeed this theatrical sensation created a whole new genre and standard of entertainment in London’s West End almost 35 years ago. In NYC, it won the Tony Award for Best Musical and ran on Broadway for 20 years. Shawn spoke of his focus of getting to its core and exploring what made it great and this cast will benefit, as has the design team, from his experience with the show and his expertise as a musician who knows this show inside out, backwards and forwards. As a director, he has been open and collaborative, and I can’t praise enough Costume Designer Theresa Ham, Set Designer Kevin Depinet and Lighting Designer Jesse Klug for their enthusiasm taking this well known, beloved piece to a new level of freshness and creativity. Harrison Mc Eldowney’s choreography, from just a glance, will set the bar for dance this season in Chicago Theatre and for seasons to come. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the hardest kind of piece to present. It has a charming narrative but is essentially a book of poems set to songs and dances. There is a purity of form to it. A difficult simplicity to achieve. And the creatives at Paramount are meeting the challenge to find the drama instilled in it by the original creators, choreographer Gillian Lynne and of course composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and director Trevor Nunn. Now the poetry all this is based on is T. S. Elliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.” What I missed in English class, and am fascinated by, is that T. S. Elliot is not British at all but was born in St. Louis, Missouri, having moved to England when he was 25 and later became naturalized as a British subject. And I recall that there was absolutely nothing light weight about this man’s writing if you consider the work of his we had to tackle: “The Waste Land” and “Murder in the Cathedral.” That this is the same guy who wrote CATS really intrigues me. And here we are with a dazzling cast of dancers/singers/actors bringing this Nobel Prize winning author’s poems to life! I sat down for the first few minutes of the rehearsal proper to experience the excitement of hearing the company raise their voices together for the first time. Pure heaven. They are magic, dear reader, and I cannot wait for you to hear and see them!
Love & thanks,