'CATS' pounces into Baldwin County children's theater

By Allison Marlow
Managing Editor
allisonm@gulfcoastmedia.com
Posted 7/8/22

Jellicle cats appear just one night of the year. This summer, the Jellicle Ball was held in Baldwin County.Andrew Lloyd Webber's award-winning musical "CATS" is one of the longest running shows in …

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'CATS' pounces into Baldwin County children's theater

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Jellicle cats appear just one night of the year. This summer, the Jellicle Ball was held in Baldwin County.

Andrew Lloyd Webber's award-winning musical "CATS" is one of the longest running shows in Broadway history. This summer a handful of theaters around the nation, including the Eastern Shore Repertory Theatre, in Daphne, were asked to produce "CATS: Young Actors Edition." The reworking of the beloved classic is an opportunity for children to take on the magical roles of Old Deuteronomy, Rum Tum Tugger and others.

Erin Langley, ESRT artistic director, said theater organizers met with the licensing group Concord Theatricals to walk through the project, the most recent of many new titles and pilot adaptations ESRT has produced over the years.

"Our students and our team enjoy the challenge and creativity of producing new works, so we love these types of opportunities," Langley said.

While some shows, such as "Frozen" are reimagined as Young Actors' versions quickly, long-running shows like "CATS" often take longer to appear on smaller stages. Local theaters such as ESRT are asked to provide feedback about the material and how approachable it is for younger actors and audiences. Their production photos may also be used in promotional materials and websites for the licensing group.

Langley said while being the first to produce a show is difficult it is also a challenge she loves.

"The sky is the limit creativity-wise. Other groups can look at your productions and get ideas on how to make theirs work too. This is obviously one of the most difficult things as well," she said.

While "CATS" has been seen by 74 million people worldwide, ESRT has also been tasked with producing shows that have never been seen by anyone.

In 2020 the theater produced one of the first productions of "The Big One-Oh." At the time, there were no videos and no recorded music of the show, just the children's chapter book it was based on.

ESRT's cast and crew made all the costume and set decisions with only the help of their own imaginations. The well-known "CATS" formula is tougher to stray from.

"With a show like "CATS" that is so iconic, you have a lot of source material to go off of, but you also are trying to figure out how to make it work for children," Langley said.

"I think the goal with a show like "CATS" is to introduce a new generation to the work. I definitely think by the end of our rehearsal process the kids had a much better understanding of Andrew Lloyd Webber's style and flair," Langley said. "They walked away with a greater appreciation of one of the longest running shows on Broadway. When they see "CATS" playing in the future, they'll be able to connect their experience to the beloved musical."

"CATS" had a small run on the ESRT stage in early July.

ESRT's "CATS" cast included: Jack Glisson, Addie Carter, Charlotte Guilian, Mary-Camila Klotz, Cecilia Talbot, Keegan Gulledge, Davea Morrison, Vivian Marlow, Benjamin Whatley, Olivia Green, Scarlett Cox, Emmi Lohn, Dessa Fitzgerald, Alice Webb, Talyn Moore, Ann Marie Dowden, Conlee Willits and Ava Bernardi.

The show was choreographed by Matthew Kiel, directed by Matthew Kiel, Sydney Gray and Erin Langley. Set design was by Reagan Defnall, lighting design was by John Stimpson, costume design was by Genevieve Magli and Millie Ollinger served as the intern.

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