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Five months and nine lives: CATS performance for Thomson High players is combination of long hours, heavy make-up, intricate costumes

Five months of preparation equals three nights of a triumphant production. Janet Bailey, chorus teacher at Thomson High said students began in October working on the musical CATS, which will be performed in the school's auditorium tonight, Friday and Saturday.

Before auditions could begin, Ms. Bailey and a panel of three teachers watched movies of the musical and studied the characters. Ms. Bailey said during audition, they chose students who had similar physical attributes to their movie character, a decent singing voice and the ability to dance.

"When we first picked, it took us several days to decide, and then we were worried that maybe we didn't pick the right people," Ms. Bailey said. "But I can honestly say now that we picked the right person for every part."

There are 26 cast members in the musical, and each one plays a cat. Several of the students said this was their first time to play a part that wasn't human.

"Putting emotion into my solo is difficult," said Meghan Sutton, a sophomore who plays Grizabella. "I've definitely never been an animal, and I've never been old before."

The students had to study their character in a video and learn dance steps in addition to lyrics, which Ms. Bailey described as a "tremendously large amount of music."

"It's a lot more time consuming than I thought it would be," said Leah Powers, a freshman who plays Demeter. "The story was hard to understand. I had to watch the video three times to figure out what was going on."

The musical was written by Andrew Lloyd Webber, who Ms. Bailey said "is a fabulous composer." According to the CATS website, since it's opening in London in 1981, the musical has been presented professionally in more than 20 countries and has won 23 awards. The Sunday Times raved it as "among the most exhilarating and innovative musicals ever staged."

For the THS production, Becky Morlan choreographed the dances.

"Mrs. Morlan has been wonderful," said Tammy Sutton, the make-up artist for the THS production. "Before, (the students) were great singers, and now they're singers and dancers."

The orchestra of THS students and music faculty members of the high school and middle school will perform under the direction of Jessie Morlan. Mr. Morlan, the school band director, said CATS is different than previous musicals they've done because the lack of dialogue means the musicians are playing 50 to 60 percent more music than they are accustomed to, plus the level of music is more difficult. He said the musicians also have put in a lot of time, staying after school daily until 9 p.m. to practice.

"CATS is a favorite musical of mine. I've got many copies and CD's of it," Mr. Morlan said.

Ms. Bailey began teaching and practicing lyrics and music with the students, while Mrs. Morlan worked with them on dance moves. Ms. Bailey said when they all got together to practice with the orchestra, "some of them had to revamp their tempos."

To enhance the drama, THS teacher Kelly Flanders designed the set. Mrs. Flanders has been working with professionals from Augusta State University to help teach the THS students to program the lighting for the performance.

There's perfect casting, tremendous music, an intricate story line and a professional set, but the cat's meow will be the costumes and make-up. This is the first musical for which Thomson High has rented professional costumes from New York. The costumes include tights with stripes, fur, tails, ears, wigs, collars and lots of paint.

Mrs. Sutton and six other parent volunteers have been working every day to transform the students into feline creatures.

"It's a lot of work, I'm here every night," Mrs. Sutton said.

Mrs. Sutton found the patterns for the face paint online, and then "customized it a little bit." The faces feature paint in colors that coordinate with the character's fur, complete with whiskers. The painted striping blends so well that it is almost impossible to see where the face ends and the wig begins. Mrs. Sutton said it will take them at least four hours before each show to apply the make up to every character.

The performance will be at 7 p.m., tonight through Saturday, Feb. 1-3 in the high school auditorium. General admission is $7 and reserved seating is $10. Call the high school office at 706-986-4200.

Web posted on Thursday, February 01, 2007

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