“One night a year, a very special bread of cats called the Jellicles gather together to joyfully celebrate the Jellicle Ball. At the end of their night their leader, Old Deuteronomy, will make his Jellicle Choice, where one cat will be granted the gift of starting the next of their nine lives by ascending to the Heavyside Layer.”
With this in mind, Cats the Musical introduces us to each of the individual cats, whose journey we follow to find out who will be chosen this year. Who will it be?
As a huge fan of Cats the Musical, I have seen the production on tour before and, of course, had high expectations. Having also worked with and seen Steps Productions perform in the past, I also knew that this was a Youth Group who were perfectly capable of wowing both myself and the rest of the audience.
Under the leadership of Founder Ash White and the able direction and choreography of Danyl James Turvey, ‘CATS – A Youth Group Production’ was nothing other than a great triumph. As soon as the lights dipped at 7:15pm on the final show of what I heard had been a highly successful week, I knew I was in for a treat.
The ten-piece band led by Musical Director Matt Symonds, who has been with Steps for five years, began the show with the overture, which instantly gripped each member of the audience and had them on the edge of their seats. This togetherness and talent that the band displayed in the first five minutes continued throughout, and complimented the ability that was displayed onstage.
From the word go I was hooked, as performers crawled through the audience and made their way to the stage. Their life-like costumes apparently took 200 hours to create and develop, and the wigs a further 50 hours, with each performer also spending a minimum of 22 minutes in make-up prior to each performance.
The first line of the show was sung by Steve Maycock, playing narrator Munkastrap, whose vocal talent was a solid underpinning for the show as a whole. I was particularly impressed by his ability to keep up with the sometimes fast-paced, frantic and tongue-twisting moments of the show. By his side throughout was Adam Wigglesworth, whose portrayal of the confident Rum Tum Tugger had the audience crying with laughter, but also warmed by his sweet voice that was perfect for the role.
But the male performers weren’t the only ones who made an impression. Sam Shirtliffe, who has taken on many leading roles with the company, did an excellent job of performing as the wise Old Deuteronomy, a role that is very challenging vocally. However, this was no problem for Sam, whose soulful voice and strong stage presence was always an eye-catcher. One performer who stole both my attention and my heart throughout, however, was the misunderstood character of Grizabella the Glamour Cat, played by Bethan Griffiths. I believed every single word she spoke or sang, and could confidently say this talented young lady could give Elaine Paige, the original Grizabella, a run for her money.
With a show like this, it isn’t all about the individual performers. What takes a musical like this from being good to great is the whole company coming together, working hard, and embracing each role no matter how big or small. This was something I felt this cast of 35 did exceptionally well. Every face on stage was lit up through the hours of carefully constructed cat makeup, and it was great to see some of the younger members, some as young as seven, assertively addressing the audience and letting their light shine. I am happy to say the cast even encouraged me to like some of the musical numbers I had previously skipped over in the DVD countless times!
Director and Choreographer Danyl James Turvey (25), says CATS has been a huge achievement for Steps.
He says: “A lot of the cast had done no dance or very minimal at the start of the process yet they took on CATS and rocked it!
“From the start of rehearsals where we had some characters who were self-conscious about exploring their movements to now where they explore their own characterisation is the most amazing achievement.
“That moment when the cast develop your initial concept is the most rewarding feeling and they have adopted this attitude in everyday life to excel at school, college and work.”
With a standing-ovation from the audience most nights, Danyl added: “The reception from the audience spoke for itself.”
From the lighting to the music, from the costumes to the choreography, this was surely one of the best pieces of amateur musical theatre I have seen for a while. With a total cost of £28,000, and a total of 62 rehearsals attended, all the hard work really seems to have paid off.
As Albert Schweitzer once said: “There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats.” With both of these playing such key roles in this production, it really is no surprise that I left with such a huge smile on my face.
Congratulations Steps Productions!
By Becky Lancashire
Following the success of this production, Steps are now looking for new members aged between seven and 21 to join their team.
Danyl said: “At Steps, we promote showcasing individuality and strengths while working on getting a strong technical basis.
“If you want to explore performing, improve your confidence, or just want to meet new friends, the Steps family is the place for you.
“All that is required of you is a passion and strive to put on the best professional shows in South Yorkshire.”
If you are interested in joining, you can contact Ash White at firstname.lastname@example.org or call Heather Jenkinson on 01144 384 723.