How to make 'Cats' work together

Complex West production revives cooperative spirit

Oct. 24, 2012

A rekindled collaboration between the Wauwatosa West High School's drama department, art department, choir and orchestra is under way to produce the vocally, visually and physically demanding Broadway production of "Cats."

The musical, the first performance by the theater department this year, is slated to run Nov. 2, 3, 9 and 10 at 7 p.m. and Nov. 4 at 2 p.m.

A cast of 49, a technical crew of 13 and collaboration among several departments has galvanized roughly 100 students in all to make "Cats" purr.

The drama department has been trying to gain this level of collaboration for the last three years. Kylie Hogrefe, a senior who will play Grizabella, said she has seen the rise in cooperation since she was a freshman.

The work for "Cats" started long before the school year did. Over summer, students attended dance workshops to learn the moves and techniques that would give them the edge in fall auditions."Cats" requires demanding movement and the cast is on stage during the entire production, which means there is no time to rest.And the score does not let up either. "Cats" is played entirely through music - the entire show is sung.

"That's what's nice about it, too," said Senior Susie Schively, who plays Bombalurina. "It's not a typical musical, where it's kind of fake, where it's like 'We're going to act and then we're going to stop and sing a song.' The lyrics are weird and strange and sometimes pointless sounding, but they're fun."

The students said they are confident in their preparations; they have most of the songs down, but are now working on transitions to make the show more fluid.

Behind the scenes, Marshall Thornton, the stage manager, consistently stays until 8 p.m. during school days to design the set and work out the technical bugs.

The set itself is nearly complete, an uncommon feat in high school drama department circles. When the department put on "Harvey," the set wasn't ready until two days before the debut. Students studied previous sets and choreography for "Cats" and applied that knowledge to make a structurally sound junkyard environment for the cats to dance and sing in. They also had to lift and cut the dance floor, which was bubbling up and causing a tripping hazard for the dancers.

This is Thornton's first year as stage manager. He has worked as assistant for productions including "Peter Pan" and "Footloose."

Steffan said, "That has been the sort of blessing in all of this that the students are so dedicated. They want to be here and they're working hard. I can't imagine coming into this if they weren't. They want to have a successful production. That was obvious from day one."

Another challenge for the department was the introduction of a new director, Adam Steffan, who replaced Tim Catlett. Steffan, a Wauwatosa East alumnus, came into the department three weeks into the production of "Cats." Catlett's sudden resignation, which district officials have declined to elaborate on, made an already complex production more difficult.

"Cats" was chosen by Catlett due to the challenging nature of the movement, music and costume preparation needed to pull the production off. Schively, who is president of West's Thespian Society, also had a large say in whether or not the show would go on.

Hogrefe said, " 'Cats' is important to our old director because we're working on building our department as a family and really working on gaining a good bond between all of our members and 'Cats' is the perfect show to do that because 'Cats' is a family on stage all the time."


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