"Cats" Director Laura Vedenhaupt has yet to see the infamous 2019 movie adaptation.
Maybe that's a good thing — she'll be walking into Capital City Productions tonight with fresh eyes.
CCP will host a "A Night With Cats," presented as a revue of favorite songs from the original show. It will run for four performances today through Saturday. Unlike other CCP productions, this production will not include dinner.
The well-known and widely-loved musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber has been in the works at CCP since last year, before the first trailer for the "Cats" movie adaptation — and the critical reception to it — was unleashed. Vedenhaupt said she was already lined up for the role — one she might've clawed her way into, if necessary.
"When the show came up as a possibility for us, I think the other directors knew they might have a fight on their hand if they wanted to try and direct instead," she joked.
A cat owner and lover (the furry feline, not the humans dressed as so) herself, Vedenhaupt said each one of her three little Jellicles remind her of a character from the show. And in a cast of dozens, there's plenty to choose from.
The total cast list, including vocalists, a cat cabaret live band and numerous dancers, reaches about 40. With choreography, vocal instruction and hours upon hours of hand painting costumes, preparing for the show wasn't simple, especially when COVID-19 swept the cats off their feet and "really turned everyone's seasons upside down," Vedenhaupt said.
Last year, CCP had agreed to provide Elite Performing Arts with costumes to use during their dance competition season where they would be performing Jellicle Ball. After the competition season was over, CCP would cast those who wanted to be part of the dance ensemble. But things didn't go as planned, and the theater closed when COVID-19 hit.
"When we were finally able to reopen the theatre, it became obvious we would not be able to have the full production due to the constrained rehearsal schedule," Vedenhaupt said.
"Cats" was turned into a Spotz on the Artist production, and the dancers and vocalists have been working on their performances since, oftentimes sharing the small rehearsal space with two other shows.
In casting, Vedenhaupt said they knew they needed to find performers who could handle the challenge of learning numerous songs and dances in six weeks of "truly sporadic rehearsals."
Luckily, they hit gold, and, with the help of vocal director Louise Whitworth and choreographer Jordan Beach Hall, the limited amount of rehearsals they did have didn't go to waste.
Vedenhaupt said she's "seriously impressed" with the cast's abilities, and she pointed out the dancers and vocalists didn't join in together until the last week or so of rehearsals.
Though the cast had a "strange genesis," Vedenhaupt said, they eventually made it.
As the dancers danced and the vocalists sang, another team of people was hard at work behind the scenes. Sarah Tannehill, Jenifer Burlis-Freilich, Renee Barnes and Margie Hawthorne spent hours painting dozens of leotards in shades of brown, black, gray and orange to mimic cat fur. Then their matching tails were added, as well as ears, and finished Wednesday.
The final product, plus stage makeup, is an array of "unique and beautiful cats," Vedenhaupt said.
With dozens of dancers poised and ready, whipping their tails and scrunching their whiskers, the stage is sure to come alive as the cats tell their stories.
It appears the "any press is good press" phrase might've held some water, too — at least according to Vedenhaupt. Though there were plenty of vocal critics, Vedenhaupt said she believes the movie adaptation of "Cats" sparked an interest in the musical for people "who might not otherwise have considered going to see it."
"I hope our abbreviated version of the show will fill them with the curiosity of a cat to go and see the full musical when the touring companies can get back on the road," she said.
And will she see the movie?
"I didn't want the movie to have a huge influence on my decisionmaking," she said. But, "I will probably watch it next month!"
Upon reopening, the theater previously announced, via Facebook, efforts in cleaning have been stepped up, tables are spaced 6 feet apart, and patrons are asked to remain in their cars until doors open to ensure no crowds form in the lobby. Masks are strongly encouraged.
Showtimes for "Cats" are at 7 p.m. today, Friday and Saturday, with a matinee at 12:30 p.m. Saturday. Doors to the theater (at 719 Wicker Lane) will open at 7 p.m. tonight, and the show begins at 7:30 p.m. Doors for the Saturday matinee will open at 12:30 p.m. with the show starting at 1 p.m.