It should come as no surprise that at Dance Magazine, we really, really love CATS. The Andrew Lloyd Webber musical made its way to Broadway 35 years ago (and proceeded to run for 18 years and snag Tony Awards), and by all accounts the revival, which opened this summer, lives up to the original in every way, with man-of-the-moment Andy Blankenbuehler revamping Gillian Lynne's iconic choreography.
Georgina Pazcoguin performs the White Cat solo.
But CATS isn't the only thing on the Great White Way to turn 35 this year. Inside Broadway, an organization dedicated to bringing musical theater to New York City public schools, was founded in the same season that CATS took Broadway by storm; in fact, Inside Broadway teamed up with the musical in its first year to get NYC high school students into the show's Wednesday matinee free of charge. So today, to celebrate the opening of Inside Broadway's 35th anniversary season, CATS hosted a few thousand NYC school kids at the Neil Simon Theatre for a program pulling together cast members, makeup artists and crew members to draw back the curtain and reveal how a musical gets made—and of course, to perform a few excerpts. As Jess LeProtto, the cast's Mungojerrie, puts it, "For the students to experience how much work goes into each show—and who are probably experiencing theater for the first time—it's such a great opportunity." Here are a few fun tidbits from the event:
The top five best moments, according to New York City school kids:
NYC schoolchildren got an inside look at Broadway's CATS.
- The opening light show. The musical begins with glowing cat eyes lighting up one by one in the otherwise dark theater, a moment that will never be spookier than when you're surrounded by nearly 1500 screaming children.
- Old Deuteronomy's impressive pipes. Chorus member Richard Todd Adams stepped into the part to sing the musical's closing song, The Ad-dressing of Cats. He couldn't suppress a grin when the kids felt the need to applaud and cheer wildly at the end of every verse.
- Georgina Pazcoguin's gorgeous facility. A hush fell over the audience when the New York City Ballet soloist started to dance the White Cat's balletic solo, but her sinuously controlled descent into a split provoked a lot of excited whispering.
- Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer's antics. Jess LeProtto and Francesca Granell started the program in jeans and t-shirts, but after they transformed backstage into their feline characters they nearly brought down the house with their jazzy, acrobatic duet. Extra points for nailing the tricky double cartwheels near the end of the number, and for the boundless enthusiasm the pair showed for sharing with the kids. Granell commented later that she loves having kids in the audience.
- Memory. Grizabella's solo holds a special place in the hearts of CATS fans of all ages, but when Mamie Parris started the ballad, she had some unexpected accompaniment: Almost all of the kids in the audience had begun learning the song at school and decided to join in.
Where's the orchestra?
Jess LeProtto and Francesca Granell perform "Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer."
Because of John Napier's set design, the orchestra pit is covered over to give the cats extra space to dance in their junkyard. Instead, the 13 musicians play from a band room located beneath the stage. Monitors in the back of the house show the cast members a live feed of the conductor to help them keep the timing together.
By the numbers:
- On any given night, there are 90 people working backstage (not including front of house staff) to make the musical happen.
- Three stage managers are on hand: one to call cues, the other two to oversee props
- Since everything needs to be cat sized, all props and set pieces are scaled to at least three times their normal size.
- Lighting designer Natasha Katz's vision requires 350 separate lights.
All images: PC Elena Olivo, Courtesy Inside Broadway