The Hippo


May 31, 2020








A couple of kittens in costume last week. Courtesy photo.

See Cats
Where: Souhegan High School Theatre, 412 Boston Post Road, Amherst
When: Thursday, April 16, at 7 p.m.; Friday, April 17, at 7 p.m.; Saturday, April 18, at 2 and 8 p.m.; Sunday, April 19, at 2 p.m.
Admission: $15 adults, $12 students/seniors

Cats and kittens
Amherst PTA’s challenging yet family-friendly show

By Kelly Sennott

Director Alan Kaplan says the Amherst PTA’s next show should really be called Cats and Kittens.

This weekend, 17 kid and 48 adult actors will bring to life yet another musical never seen by company audiences in its 63 years of community theater. 
But finding the right show posed a challenge.
“We’ve done Annie, The Music Man, Oklahoma, The Wizard of Oz, Peter Pan — all the big family musicals,” said producer Jackie O’Dowd during a phone interview. “We didn’t want to repeat, but there are really only a few shows out there with great music and dance that can be filled with a multi-generational cast.”
Initially, the company was looking at Beauty and the Beast; when choosing a show, the board looks to see that the play is new to audiences and can accompany both child and adult actors. When rights for that show weren’t available, Cats was chosen instead.
Actors, directors, choreographers and set/costume designers aren’t treating the show like second choice though. Quite the contrary, they’re incorporating trapeze and rope choreography, intricate sets and more than 1,000 lighting cues. 
Choreographer Vouli Anthimidou, owner of VouliDance in Amherst, was driving when Kaplan called to tell her this year’s decision to produce Cats. She was so enthused, she accelerated her car to match.
“I got so excited, I apparently ended up with a $250 speeding ticket,” Anthimidou said, laughing. “It’s such an exciting piece of work.”
You don’t see Cats often in New Hampshire, said Kaplan; it’s a very difficult show, both musically and dance-wise.
“But these folks have really risen to the challenge,” Kaplan said. “[Anthimidou] took the position, and she was not going to dumb down the dancing. She was going to do the show as she saw it. … She maintains a very high standard, and I think the cast has come a long way.”
But the cast, Anthimidou said, was already filled with strong dancers. One adult actress was a gymnast, another a circus artist. What they lacked in skill or physical fitness she had them make up in hard work through regular three-hour dance rehearsals. (And during February vacation, they were at her studio four days, three hours a day.) 
Cats premiered in London in 1981. It was based on Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot and boasts music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and won the 1983 Tony Award for Best Musical (and also is the third-longest-running show in Broadway history). It tells of a tribe of cats, called the Jellicles, and a night they make what they call the “Jellicle Choice” and decide which cat will ascend to the Heaviside Layer and come back to a new life.
The play is set in a junkyard, and at the time of his interview, Kaplan was working on the Souhegan High School sets — specifically, a structure made of ¾-inch-thick translucent plexiglass that actors will dance atop and a catwalk that will line the top of the theater. Twelve moving lights will showcase costumes, designed and created by mother-daughter team Mary Jo Smith and Mary Selvoski, made from colorful leotards and body suits with added fur and tails.
Many of the cast made their own wigs during a wig-making workshop, and Laura Majore will be working as the head makeup artist. Kaplan also talked about flying stunts, a fight scene and an onstage elevator.
It’s Kaplan’s eighth show with the community theater company. The productions, he said, have come a long way the past several years. Costuming, technical work and choreography are more sophisticated than they used to be, thanks to the long hours and hard work volunteers put in.
“Each year, it seems we add a little bit more,” he said. 
The production is the biggest fundraiser of the year for the PTA. It benefits curriculum enrichment for Amherst’s lower elementary schools. 
As seen in the April 16, 2015 issue of the Hippo.

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