Cat memories at Festival Place
By: Anna Borowiecki
| Posted: Wednesday, Dec 18, 2013 06:00 am
Festival Place Players
Dec. 19 to Dec. 30
100 Festival Way
Tickets: $15 to $36 Call 780-449-3378
Picture this. The moonlight cuts a swath through a dark night. A silhouette of a cat skitters across a stage decked out as a junkyard complete with tires and other garbage strewn around.
Suddenly more slinking feline forms appear. It is the night of the Jellicle Ball. Every year members of the cat colony gather to hear the sage words of their revered leader. Old Deuteronomy then selects one lucky cat privileged to ascend the Heavyside Layer to be reborn into a new Jellicle life.
This four-pawed reunion kicks off Webber-mania in a newly-minted production of Cats running Dec. 19 to 30 at Festival Place in Sherwood Park.
Some have called Andrew Lloyd Webber a brilliant composer. Others refer to him as a plagiarizing hack since Cats is based on the T.S. Eliot book of children’s poems, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.
But the musical’s razzle-dazzle, great tunes, sleek costumes, magnificent makeup, superb choreography and themes of salvation tend to speak for itself.
Three St. Albert actors have purr-loined a role in the Festival Players production. Maria Kolasis Harrigan is Demeter, a sassy, sophisticated queen. Meaghan McKinstry plays Exotica, a sexy cat that teases and taunts while Josh Languedoc slips into the skin of the notorious cat burglar Mungojerrie.
“This production is so interesting. There’s so much happening. There are 31 cats and they all are doing something different,” says director-choreographer Shelley Tookey.
To create the nimbleness of cat movements, Tookey had the entire cast watch cat videos and perform movements close to the floor, licking paws, stretching, rolling and jumping.
“It’s a physically-demanding show and they started learning songs and literally jogging on the spot while singing. The show requires stamina and core strength,” Tookey explained.
For instance, she says, the Jellicle Ball song and dance clocks in at nearly 13 minutes. During that time, the cast goes full-speed combining acrobatics with twirls, flips, spins and turns.
And Webber has a knack for building tunes that shamelessly tug at the heartstrings. One memorable one that resonates with everyone, young and old, is the poignant and tender Memories.
It is sung by soprano Elizabeth Marsh as old Grizabella, a former glamour cat that went away from the colony, experienced the harshness of the world and is now treated as a pariah.
Reflecting on the similarity of the cats to humans, Kolasis Harrigan says, “It’s so true to so many different people’s lives. How many people have had glory days and feel it should have lasted longer.”
A graduate of Bellerose Composite High School, Kolasis Harrigan attended California Pacific College for the Performing Arts before working six tours with The Young Americans.
By 2008, the triple threat performer returned home and taught at Dance Fusion and Dance Experience. Her last theatrical role was Festival Players’ 2008 Crazy For You.
She is re-entering theatre after a five-year hiatus and the role of Demeter, an empowered molly, is just up her alley.
At one point, her feisty cat character battles the villain McAvity.
“I jump on his back and he tosses me off. The choreography is complicated and it’s a huge fight scene.”
McKinstry compares the colony to a family.
“They’re a strange bunch. But to them family means you don’t have to be of the same blood. We have cat fights, but in the end it’s better to be with somebody than to be alone.”