Cats the musical premieres at BYU-I



The musical Cats is the first major commercial musical performed in over 10 years by BYU-Idaho’s Department of Theatre.

“This has never been produced here,” said Hyrum Conrad, Cats’ stage director and a professor in the Department of theatre. “It’s an ambitious undertaking, and because it’s never been done, I wanted to do it.”

Porter Justus, the makeup and hair designer and the stage manager for the show, said the collaboration of different departments was essential to produce the show because it is the largest and most complex musical the school has ever done.

“This is one of the first shows that we used prosthetics …  in this show’s case, we sculpted cat noses for each of the cast members,” Justus said.

Justus, a junior majoring in theatre studies, said the design for the show is original and specialized for this production, which means it has a new set, new makeup design, hair design and costume design.

“If they are familiar with Cats or if they’ve seen the video, this is the same show, but they are not going to see the same costumes,” said Kathie Schmid, the costume designer for the musical and a faculty member in the theatre department.

Schmid said she needed to design a unique look for the costumes, different from the original Broadway show.

“I am making fur suits, so they are going to look more like cats,” Schmid said.

She said the fur costumes create a different experience for the performers.

“It will be very hot, and they won’t be very happy with me once the lights come on, but they are going to look fantastic,” Schmid said.

Justus said that to contribute to the spectacle, the show will have more lights than any BYU-I performance in the last 10 years. New sound equipment was purchased specifically for the show.

“What is so beautiful about this is that there is a story underneath, and there are these amazing and fascinating characters that the BYU-I performers do such a good job portraying,” said Mariah Plitt, a performer in Cats and a senior majoring in theatre studies.

Justus said Cats is about a feline clan called the “Jellicle Cats,” which meets once a year for the Jellicle Ball.

Justus said at the ball, their leader, Old Deuteronomy, selects a cat to receive another cat life.

“I have learned so much about what it’s like to be a cat and how to tell a story as someone other than me or a human character,” Plitt said. “It’s so different because cats feel differently than we do and express themselves differently.”

Lynette Call, who plays Grizabella in the show, said remembering to keep up her technique of singing and acting while also characterizing a cat was a special experience.

“I love Grizabella because she finds what happiness is because she learns to love herself,” said Call, a junior studying in theatre and speech education. “I want the audiences to feel the Spirit and have it confirm to them that how we find happiness is by loving yourself.”

The musical is set in a dumpster that is brought to life under the moon by the Jellicle Cats, according to The Guide to Musical Theatre website.

“There are a lot of really talented people that have been involved in every aspect of it, and all the technical elements are going be beautiful and entertaining to watch,” said Christiana Dennis, an assistant stage manager for Cats and a senior studying theatre and speech education.

Plitt said no one could ever be disappointed with an Andrew Lloyd Webber show.

“The fantasy nature of this family show is something I thought would be perfect for the summer time period that we are producing this in,” Conrad said.

Conrad said children ages 6 and above are welcome, and he hopes many families can attend the production.

“It is very visually interesting and appealing, and that is something that children and adults can both really enjoy,” Dennis said.

With over 21 years of performances, Cats is one of the longest playing shows on Broadway, according to the official Cats website.

“Expect a fun, clean, energetic and innovating entertainment,” Conrad said.

Even though Cats was released back in 1981, it is still popular today because it is a timeless masterpiece, according to the musical’s official website. The musical has won many awards, including a Tony for Best Musical.

“It’s not your normal show, that is for sure,” said Sarah Bendixsen, a senior majoring in theatre studies. “Even as a musical, it’s just a whole bunch more dancing.”

Conrad said there are a variety of dance styles used within the production’s choreography.

“There will be lots of exciting melodies, there will be great harmony, and this is a particularly strong dance show because it is all musical numbers,” Conrad said.

There are still revivals of Cats due to demand from audiences all over the world, according to the musical’s official website. “The music is wonderful,” Plitt said. “It’s so well-written and such a classic musical with song, dance and acting. That is just brilliant.”

Cats will be performed in the Snow Drama Theatre on July 1-2 and July 7-10 at 7:30 p.m. The last performance is a matinee at 2 p.m. on July 11.

“Every song, one right after another, is a big, staged, spectacular event,” Conrad said.

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