DURYEA — The last time “Cats” was performed at the Phoenix Performing Arts Centre, Jade Casella was 14 years old.
Four years later, the Avoca resident is ready to take on a larger role in the musical, to show off the skills she’s learned since.
Casella played Tantomile, a twin cat who stayed in the background, when she was 14. Her new character, Demeter, narrates the musical.
“This is a lot of work,” she said of her new role. “Last time I don’t think I realized how difficult it was, but this time it’s a whole different level.”
“Cats,” composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber, is based on “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” by T. S. Eliot and tells the story of a tribe of cats called the Jellicles. The story follows the cats on the night they make what is known as “the Jellicle choice” and decide which cat will ascend to the Heaviside Layer and come back to a new life.
The show will be performed at the Phoenix Performing Arts Centre from Friday, April 15 to Sunday, April 17 and then from Friday, April 22 to Sunday, April 24.
Artistic Director Lee LaChette said public demand brought “Cats” back to the theater.
“I think we let it build for a while,” she said. “Last time we did it we were only slated to run it for two weekends, but we ran it for four. It was in such demand that we could have filled more weekends, but we had to quit because we had another show ready to go up. Since then people have just been asking us when we were going to do it again, and we’re the only (theater group) that’s done it. So, I said, ‘OK, it’s been four years; time to bring it back.’”
There are 26 members of the “Cats” cast, ranging in age from 13 to 53. All 26 members must be present for every rehearsal, since they are all in every scene, which sets this production apart from others, said LaChette.
“There is only one or two times where the cast actually leaves and then there will be a solo thing going on,” she said. “Otherwise, they’re on stage from beginning to end because most of the (musical) numbers involve every single person.”
Casella is also the dance captain for the theater and has been hard at work studying the routines.
One dance is 12 minutes long, she said.
“We always video tape before we end rehearsal and then I usually write down all the things we did,” said Casella. “We come back in and go back over it over and over again.”
“Cats” not only marks the return of a popular show to the Phoenix Performing Arts Centre, but it also signifies a turning point in the center itself — just last year, the center faced closure.
Struggling to keep up with costs of heating, electricity and purchasing the license to perform shows, LaChette said the community pulled together to ensure the theater stayed open.
“It’s all thanks to a lot of the parents, family and friends who have supported the place as well as fundraisers we’ve done and everybody pulling together,” she said. “The community, the borough and everybody just pulling together because they want to keep us here. It’s the only thing in the arts there is around here in this particular area and it’s something everybody wanted to see stay, so we made it work.”
LaChette and her cast are anxious to hit the stage with “Cats” once again. Casella said she is looking forward to trying to repeat the success of their last performance of the Broadway show.
“We had a lot of people, the last time we did ‘Cats,’ they were crying,” she said. “They were so excited, they loved the show and there are people still talking about the last production we did. It’s going to be hard to live up to that, but I think we can do it.”