Temple herds 'Cats' onstage
Temple Theatre's next production is arguably its most ambitious yet, but don't be surprised if the cast lands on all four paws.“Cats” — the iconic production that ran for for a record-setting 21 years at London’s New London Theatre, and on Broadway for more than 18 years, will run at the Temple from April 24 through May 11. A 25-person cast from all over the state, as well as New York and elsewhere, has been assembled to portray a motley collection of felines.
“I'm actually thrilled; I could not be happier with our caliber of talent,” said Temple Producing Artistic Director Peggy Taphorn. “I think it is going to blow people's socks off.”
The musical, composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber and based on T.S. Eliot's poetry anthology, “Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats,” chronicles the annual gathering of Jellicle cats. During this time, one special cat is selected to ascend to the Heaviside Layer.
The show is typically performed in a large venue, but Taphorn said Temple audiences will get a more intimate, up-close experience — which she labeled “'Cats' in 4-D” — in the 330-seat theater.
"Cats is traditionally done in a junkyard; it's a huge, elaborate set, and I wasn't sure how we'd make it work,” Taphorn said in a prepared statement. “I spoke to a friend of mine and found out that they had directed the show and set it in an old theatre. I thought, 'Well, I've got an old theatre!' And that's the direction we've gone.”
Taphorn said the “huge undertaking” of the show is being completed entirely in house, from the makeup to the sets to the wigs and costumes.
“I know it's our biggest production that we've ever done,” she said.
Each performer, she added, must be “a true triple-threat” to handle the demands of the singing, dancing and acting — “and luckily, I have a cast that has risen to the occasion.”
“The magnitude of the dancing alone is a huge challenge,” Taphorn said, “and these people have picked it up very quickly. We're at the point now where we're ready to incorporate technical elements.”
The music, too, is complex, Taphorn said — featuring six-part harmonies and rhythm changes. One person in the cast has been in “Cats” before, and she said they're all “learning everything from scratch.”
While it may be his first time in this production, Temple veteran C. Arnez Ellis has performed in “Sweet Charity,” “Music Man” and “Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat.” Originally of Newark, N.J., and now of Sanford, Ellis plays Old Deuteronomy — a character he describes as having wisdom and a powerful presence that is felt and respected by the other cats.
“This particular role speaks volumes to the man I want to become,” he said.
In portraying a feline, Ellis said, “I'm recognizing we are more like animals than we realize.”
“We want to be paid attention to; we want to be loved and respected — as do they,” he said.
New-York based Anne Marie Behr, who plays Demeter, said "there's something for everyone” in the show — but especially a certain demographic.
“Anyone who owns a cat; they're going to relate to it and like it a lot,” Behr said. “They're going to be able to see their cat in these roles, and it will be really fun for them.”
WANT TO GO?
WHAT: Temple Theatre production of “Cats”
WHEN: April 24-May 11, with an opening night celebration on the first Friday of the show (April 25) featuring hors d'oeuvres from Davison's Steaks. Show times are Thursdays 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.
WHERE: 120 Carthage St. Sanford
TICKETS: Single show tickets are $23 for general admission, with discounts available for children/students, military, Lee County educators and groups of 10 or more. They can be purchased via templeshows.com, by phone at (919) 774-4155, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, by mail at 120 Carthage St., Sanford, N.C., 27330, or in person at the box office (open 2-6 p.m. Monday through Friday).