Jo Brodzinski first saw CATS in London in the early 1980s, not long after the smash musical made its West End debut.
Brodzinski was blown away — and inspired to one day stage the show herself. “I knew immediately I wanted to do it,” she said.
It would take a few decades, but it’s happening now.
The Mid-Columbia Musical Theatre and Mid-Columbia Ballet are joining forces for a production of CATS.
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It opens April 10 in Richland.
Brodzinski is directing, with help from Debra Pearse Rogo, the artistic director of Mid-Columbia Ballet, and Ashley Walton, the ballet company’s assistant artistic director.
The production marks a new level of collaboration for Tri-City performing arts groups.
“It’s a complete integration of (Rogo’s) dancers and our singers/actors,” Brodzinski said. “It’s incredible. I hope to be able to show the community that we really have a large number of very talented and committed people. Because we do. These (dancers and actors) have worked their hearts out.”
CATS was composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber and is based on T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.
It follows the Jellicle cats during their Jellicle Ball, where leader Old Deuteronomy announces which among them will ascend to the Heaviside Layer and start a brand-new life.
The show debuted in London in 1981 and moved to Broadway the next year. It’s among the longest-running musicals in British theater and Broadway history, and is the longest continuously touring show in U.S. theater, a news release said.
Its songs and dances are iconic, and the Tri-City production uses almost all the original choreography.
The makeup and rented costumes also are “next level,” Brodzinski and Rogo said. A member of the original U.S. tour was in the Tri-Cities this week to help the performers with makeup and movement.
The Mid-Columbia Musical Theatre and Mid-Columbia Ballet have collaborated in the past on a smaller scale — with, for example, dancers coming in for a number during a theater company show.
“When we started talking about (staging CATS together), we never thought we’d be able to get it off the ground. It’s huge and incredibly specialized,” Rogo told the Herald. But “it’s going to be one of the most fantastic shows we’ve had in this town.”
The cast is expansive, featuring 28 singers, 22 dancers and 34 junior ballet company dancers who come in for a tap number. Chelsea Taylor stars as Grizabella, singing the showstopping, Memory, and Karl Hedlund takes on the role of Old Deuteronomy.
A live orchestra will perform the music.
After Brodzinski saw CATS in London in September 1981, she caught it again a few other times, including in California and New York. It revolutionized musical theater, she said, adding that she’s happy to finally be bringing it to the stage locally.
“I’m having a ball. It’s hard, hard, hard work. Lots and lots of discussions and meetings and working and figuring it out.
“But it’s just incredible to watch it come together.”
The show is G-rated.
Performances are April 10-12 and 17-19 in the auditorium at Richland High School, 930 Long Ave. The Friday and Saturday shows are at 7:30 p.m. and the Sunday matinees are at 2 p.m.
Tickets are $20 for adults, $18 for seniors age 60 and older and $10 for children 12 and younger and students with identification.