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Anissa Hartline (Jellylorum 2007/08)
 
"Somebody's rude to you, and I just want to hiss at them," Hartline says and laughs. "But you have to resist that impulseon a show like "Cats" — where Hartline purrs, howls and hisses every night onstage.

In fact, they teach cast members how to be kitty cats almost from day one.

It's not easy, says Hartline, who plays Griddlebone and Jellylorum, one of the oldest cats in the tribe. Cats simply don't move like people.
To get ready for her role, Hartline studied her own pet, the 11-year-old calico Bea. "She'd follow me around the house, and I'd just observe her," she says.

She'd watch how the cat always seemed to be active — crouching or twitching her tail or standing on just three feet. Sometimes all three at once.
"If there's the slightest noise, they're instantly alert," Hartline says. "It's just this constant state of energy."

Those lessons got the ball of yarn rolling, but then Hartline had to attend a sort of Kitty Cat College: What producers call "felinity" training.

"You put on knee pads and a tail, and you crawl around on the floor," she says. "We'd take turns hissing at each other, and if there's a sharp movement, you jump off the floor.
"You feel kind of dorky at first, but that's part of being in the cast."

Hartline got pretty sore those first few weeks of rehearsals.
"You're never just standing on two feet," she says. "You're constantly in a crouch, or all your weight is on one foot. You're always active."

She must be doing something right. The former opera singer already toured the world once with "Cats" in 2006, and producers asked her back again for this new tour. She's worn the skintight costume and colorful cat makeup for more than 350 shows.

Hartline says she loves being a part of the long tradition of "Cats," the second-longest running show ever on Broadway (after another Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, "Phantom of the Opera"). "Cats" closed in 2000, but has had many more lives as a traveling show.
Sometimes Hartline forgets just how popular the show is. Then she looks out into the audiences and sees the looks on people's faces.

"Those 'Cats' fans are just fantastic," she says. "You look out into the audience, and sometimes you see people with faces painted like cats."
That warms Hartline from her head to her tail.

"It's really just amazing," she says. "It's amazing the love people have for this show."

Bethany Moore (Bombalurina 2007/08)
 
Bethany Moore stepped right out of the University of Buffalo and into her dream job.
"It's always been this huge dream of mine to be in 'Cats' since I think I was 12 years old," she said, her voice bubbling with excitement as she talked about her experience. "I actually, during finals week, went to auditions in New York, and the best thing happened, and I got it. I got the part that I wanted, and it has just been one of the best experiences ever because the cast is phenomenal. This is my first tour, and to be able to start out on this show is amazing."

Moore plays Bombalurina in the Impresario's Choice presentation of "Cats," which comes to the Monroe Civic Center on Monday. There's a bit of freedom for Moore in playing the "party girl" cat, though she doesn't see many similarities between her own personality and that of her character. "She enjoys flirting with pretty much all the male cats on the stage, and sometimes with audience members. It's a blast to be her," Moore said. "It's kind of like an alter ego. You can be kind of a goofball in life, and then you get to play this sexy cat every night. It's a nice little change. I don't think of myself personally as the Bombalurina type, but I think everybody has little seeds of the cat in them. And when you're wearing a cat costume, you can pretty much get away with anything."

The tour opened in mid-October, so things are still a little new and fresh for Moore. Perhaps one of the first challenges was in makeup and costuming. The first few times she went through makeup, it took more than 40 minutes. After a month and a half, the time is down to just over 20 minutes.
"It's a huge ordeal every night, but once you see yourself in the mirror, you don't recognize yourself, which is really fascinating," she said. "My mom actually came to see the show in Toronto, and I came out in the audience and I was right in front of her and she didn't even know I was her daughter."

That transformation of actors into cats is also what Moore thinks is a big part of the appeal of the show to a wide audience.

"You can go from a normal person walking down the street, and through makeup, hair, dancing, your body posture, you become feline," she said. "People come up to me all the time and say, 'I forgot I was watching people on stage. I thought I was watching a cat.' With all the physicality and the acting, the transformation is probably the thing that's most fascinating to people."

With her own admiration of the show and the fact that "Cats" is one of the most popular Broadway shows ever, Moore said she definitely had a case of nerves at the beginning. But she's found that being part of the show is like being part of a huge extended family.

"Being in this show is like a legacy — it's been going on for years and years and years," she said. "To be part of that is to be part of the 'Cats' family, which is what they call it. You have a special connection to the people who were on the tour last year and people who were on the tour 20 years ago. It's like a fraternity or sorority in a way."

Moore said she would love to play Bombalurina for a while, but said she'll have to see how her body holds up to the touring life and take it as it comes. While she's performing the part, though, she hopes that she can reach out to young girls that are in the same position she was at their age.

"I'm just glad that we can share this with people of the next generation," she said. "I know I was that little girl that had the video and watched it religiously. Now, I go to the next step to be a part of that and hopefully affect that little girl, and maybe she'll go into theater because of seeing this show. To be a part of that is the most magical thing to me."

Seth Lerner (Old Deuteronomy 2007/08)
 
Theater hadn’t seen anything quite like it before: a musical with lyrics culled from the poems of a legendary poet and brought to life by the music of a celebrated composer. What’s more, all of its characters were feline. When it opened on the stage for the first time in London in 1981, “Cats” was destined to be unique.

It became the first mega musical, exploding onto the scene at the West End’s New London Theatre, where it remained for more than two decades to become the longest-running musical in the history of British theater. It opened at the Winter Garden Theatre in New York City in 1982 and followed the path cut with the West End production, becoming, for a time, Broadway’s longest-running musical. It picked up seven Tony Awards the following year.

Although “Cats” closed on Broadway in September 2000, it certainly hasn’t disappeared. Five continents, 26 countries and more than eight and a half million audience members later, the show goes on. It recently celebrated its 25th anniversary season tour.

Produced by Troika Entertainment (the only production company in North America sanctioned by creator Andrew Lloyd Webber) with original direction by Trevor Nunn and choreography by Gillian Lynne, the show will be bringing the authentic Broadway production to Naples audiences.
Composer Webber first conceived of “Cats” after rediscovering an old book of T.S. Eliot’s poetry, “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.”

“I began setting ‘Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats’ to music late in 1977, partly because it is a book I remember with affection from my childhood and partly because I wanted to set existing verse to music,” Webber wrote of the musical’s conception in a post for the Web site of his production company, the Really Useful Group. “Very luckily ‘Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats’ contains verses that are extraordinarily musical; they have rhythms that are very much their own, like the ‘Rum Tum Tugger’ or ‘Old Deuteronomy’ and although clearly they dictate to some degree the music that will accompany them, they are frequently of irregular and exciting meter and are very challenging to a composer.”

Webber was encouraged in composing the musical by T.S. Eliot’s widow, Valerie Eliot, who even brought him unpublished pieces of her late husband’s verse to help along the musical’s creation. Some of the show’s most-famous scenes were drawn from the outside material, including lyrics for its most popular song, “Memory,” as well as an idea that became the culminating scene in the play. In it, one of the cats ascends upward to a sort of cat heaven known the Heaviside Layer.

“Up up up past the Russell Hotel, up up up to the Heaviside Layer,” Eliot wrote in a letter.

“The double cool thing about the show is that it comes from Eliot’s poetry,” says Seth Lerner, who plays a patriarch of the cats called Old Deuteronomy. “People forget that they’re listening to poetry and are being exposed to literature put to music by Webber.

“Old Deuteronomy is like the old spiritual leader of the tribe, the tribe elder. He’s the wisest, most loved of the cats, the one everyone anticipates seeing because most will only see him once a year at the Jellicle Ball,” he says. “In the context of the story, the Jellicles are a tribe who meet once a year in a junkyard, so the show is a window into seeing what they do on this particular day, which is to have Old Deuteronomy pick someone to go the Heaviside Layer to become reborn.
“He sits up on an old tire watching the other cats for most of the show. He’s the only cat who doesn’t have to dance, which is awesome because I’m not a dancer”

Lerner laughs.

Lerner is a recent addition to the “Cats” ensemble. He was cast just a few months ago after returning from a stint teaching English literature in Beijing, China. He’s appeared in a number of big shows, including “Les Miserables,” “Titanic” and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”

“I wanted to do something completely different,” he said of going in to the audition.

For Lerner, who is a high tenor, playing Old Deuteronomy posed a bit of a challenge: It requires him to sing in the character’s traditionally low baritone voice. However, he accepts that challenge with gusto and enjoys it immensely, just as he enjoys working with the show’s cast of young actors.
“I’m really quite grateful to be working with such a talented group of young actors. The age range is 21 to 38, and I’m the oldest member. These dancers work extremely hard and they’re very talented. For me to watch them every while I’m sitting there is one of the highlights of the show.”
The show is famous for its family appeal and draws audiences of all ages, he says.

“I’m gonna be honest. I’m surprised at the response we get. It’s crazy, we get huge standing ovations at the end. Sometimes it’s like a rock concert, the audience just goes nuts. We love it.”

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