‘Cats’ will take center stage at Thornton Academy

SACO – For the third year in a row, the Thornton Academy Players are performing one of the most popular Broadway musicals. The curtain at the Harry P. Garland II auditorium will rise on Wednesday, April 24, when students at the Saco school will perform in one of the longest-running shows, “Cats.”
Cast of cats

Cast members from Thornton Academy work after school to perfect their singing and dancing for the upcoming production of “Cats.” (David Arenstam photo)

According to set designer David Hanright and codirector Emma Arenstam, the play is not often performed in high school, in part because of the large cast required, the singing and dancing demands placed on the cast and the cost associated with licensing the music.

Thornton Academy has a long history of performing musical theater and, this year, more than 80 students auditioned for the 42 different roles.

“The most terrifying thing I’ve had to do was audition for this show. I’ve been dancing for a while, and I sing in the car, but I’ve never done it on stage,” said Payton Dill, a junior and member of the cast.

“I think 75 percent of the people in the cast have already been in a show here at school,” said Camden Loeser, a junior.

That experience helps with a production like “Cats.”

“It’s 120 minutes of difficult choreography. Even my more technically advanced dancers are not used to performing with that amount of stamina, especially coupled with singing, character development, and the extensive costuming and make-up application,” Arenstam said.

Yet freshman and seniors alike have practiced for months to prepare for their upcoming six performances.

“I really like all of the dancing and the Jellicle Ball,” said Ally Hanright, a freshman cast member who has watched for years as her father directed many of the school’s productions. This year, she’s a part of the cast.

The cast, crew, musicians and costumers met most afternoons through the winter in the school’s auditorium to refine the show and get ready for opening night.

Katherine Gillespie, a sophomore member of the cast and a player on the school’s varsity soccer team, said she spends more time on the stage than she did on the athletic field.

“I am really glad to be here, especially after auditions. During the first few rehearsals and auditions there were more than 84 people trying out for the play,” Gillespie said.

The show is based on the Broadway production, but cast and crew have worked hard to make this version their own.

“In some ways, I think it’s better. The dancing, choreography and sets are original and designed for our production,” said Zachary Robinson, a sophomore.

Cast members at Thornton are involved in every aspect of the show, including creating and designing their own costumes. Elaine Lees is in charge of the costumes for the show, but she has sought input and help from everyone involved with the musical.

“We’ve worked on all aspects of the performance – the costuming, the makeup, the music and the performance,” said Natalie Hyde, a senior in the show.

Samantha Saucier, a junior, was quick to point out that there are more than 42 wigs in the show and for each wig the cast and wigmakers literally have to pull apart 550 feet of yarn.

“That’s 23,310 feet of yarn that has to be pulled and teased by hand to create the wigs,” Saucier said.

“Many of the shows I’ve been in have a costumer and you only see them once or twice before the show, but Mrs. Lees invites us to help her with the process and we see her at almost every rehearsal, ” Loeser said. “It makes us feel great; it makes us feel a part of the whole production.”

Given the size and scope of the show, it’s no wonder that some of the performers have come to the cast with variety of dance experience.

Juniors Liz Lester and Michaela Courtney routinely perform with the Maine State Ballet, and yet at the end April both dancers will take the stage as one of the cats.

Liz Lester preparing for her upcoming role in the show.

Liz Lester preparing for her upcoming role in the show.

“Ballet is very strict and this type of dancing gives us much more freedom,” Lester said with a smile as she practiced with her classmates.

Part of the magic for the musical and dance directors is the both the type and number of students that are part of the cast.

“Payton’s been involved in most of the productions here at school as tech crew, but this is the first time she’s had a singing part,” Arenstam said.

Cast members recognize the combination of skills required for the performance.

“There’s one thing to say you’re a singer or say you’re a dancer, but it’s rare to say you are both,” Loeser said.

“During auditions all of the dancers were worried about their singing and all of the singers were worried about the dancing, but it all worked out,” said Gwen Hill, a junior.

“I guess I was worried about the singing,” she added.

Hill’s voice filled the empty auditorium as she worked her way through rehearsal and the show’s signature song, “Memory.” The rest of the cast stopped to listen – they couldn’t help it.

“She’s amazing … they are all amazing,” Arenstam said.

Show times:

Performances will be at 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 25 and Friday, April 26. On Saturday, April 27 there will be two shows – a matinee at 2 p.m. and an evening show at 7 p.m. The last show will be on Sunday, April 28 at 2 p.m. Tickets may be purchased at the door or through the advance box office. For tickets, contact Doug Stebbins, 282- 3361, ext. 4222 or doug.stebbins@thorntonacademy.org.

David Arenstam

About David Arenstam

Originally from away, but here to stay - Maine is my home and I love writing stories about the people and places from my end of the state. I am a teacher and writer and my first novel, "Homecoming: A Soldier's Story of Loyalty, Courage, and Redemption" is available now at www.BrysonTaylorPublishing.com