It's still two weeks before opening night at a simple vocal rehearsal for P&J Productions upcoming portrayal of "Cats."
About a dozen actors are standing around music director Doug Rhodes' piano, working on harmony and diction and doing nothing with staging or choreography.
But several of the actors are standing with hands folded in front of them, tails secured around their waists and completely in character - already preparing for the time when they must not only transform into a different person on stage, but a whole other species.
'Cats' cast members Kayle McCloskey (left) and Carol Patterson Fedeli apply their cat makeup.
The iconic musical composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber is set to entertain local audiences at 7:30 p.m. June 7, 8 and 9 and at 2 p.m. June 10 at the Mishler Theatre in Altoona.
"Cats" is based on a book of poems by T.S. Eliot, set to music by Webber excluding the most famous song, "Memory," which was written for the show. It premiered in London in 1981 and then on Broadway the following year, garnering several awards and becoming one of the longest-running shows in either country.
Will Jones, director of the show who also plays Munkustrap, described "Cats" as a pop opera with great costumes and dancing.
If you go
When: 7:30 p.m. June 7, 8 and 9 and 2 p.m. June 10
Where: Mishler Theatre in Altoona
Details: Tickets are $16 and available at the box office, hours 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday or by calling 944-9434
"The magic of 'Cats' is that it's completely unique," he said. "There's nothing else like it."
Other members of the cast had a hard time thinking of how they would explain the show to someone who was completely unfamiliar with it because of its uniqueness and you-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it nature. Brady Emeigh, who plays Rum Tum Tugger in the P&J production, said he believes the biggest contribution to the show's success was simply the "oddness of it."
"People weren't used to seeing that degree of makeup, that amount of stagework, that kind of choreography," Emeigh, 17, of Hollidaysburg, said. "There's nothing else that can really compare to it."
Emeigh said putting on this show requires an intense amount of work. But due to the professionalism of everyone involved with P&J , it's coming together very well.
"I don't think just anyone could do it," he said of the show. "You have to be a very special kind of person to become a feline. If you're shy, then no. You have to be very open with yourself, and honestly, you kind of learn about yourself more than anything, just having to expose yourself."
Carol Patterson Fedeli, who plays Bombalurina in the show, said she's had fun getting into character. She played Velma in the P&J's production of "Chicago" last summer, but said she's really enjoyed the dance portions in "Cats."
"I haven't danced like this for a while, so that's been really fun getting back into that," Patterson Fedeli, 49, of Altoona, said.
The show's choreography is also heightened by the inclusion of dancers from the Allegheny Ballet Company, Jones said. This is the first time that P&J Productions has partnered with ABC, but Jones hopes it will continue.
"It's a unique partnership because they bring that whole dance element" he said. "We've had a great time, and they've been very good. The community is fortunate to have Allegheny Ballet Company."
When it comes to the music in the show, Rhodes said it's certainly important because there is virtually no dialogue in "Cats"
"The plot has to come out through the music," he said. "You have to tell the story in your vocals and everything that happens musically has to be spot-on. If it's not, you miss the story because there's no dialogue to back [you] up."
Rhodes and Jones slimmed down the show a bit from its original version, taking out a few numbers unnecessary to the storyline, Rhodes said. But he added that they made sure they didn't sacrifice the music they were using.
"What we're doing with what we're doing is pretty true to script, pretty true to the music," he said.
Crew members are also working to ensure that they go above and beyond when it comes to costumes and makeup. Darlene Mattio, 59, of Hollidaysburg who is making the costumes, said she's been airbrushing, dyeing and using different fabrics to ensure the costumes have depth and appear life-like.
But she doesn't mind the work.
"It's my dream because I get to create," she said. "You don't have to pull from a wardrobe. ... I like to create rather than just go out and buy it. I've just been having so much fun."
Tara McCaulley, 40, of Altoona who is doing makeup for the show, said she's trying to stick as close to the Broadway look as possible. Because it's such an extensive process, McCaulley said she will also be doing a workshop with the actors in order to teach some of the secondary characters to do their own makeup and save on prep time.
Though it's ultimately up to the actor to make the character believable, McCaulley said she hopes the makeup and costumes help the audience get into the show.
"My hope is that the audience members can appreciate every aspect of it, the talent of the actors themselves, and of course all the efforts behind the scenes," she said.
Because the show had so many ticket sales in advance, an extra Thursday night show was added because they didn't want anyone to miss it, Jones said. He added that this is built off of the success of past P&J productions, as well as the involvement of the Allegheny Ballet Company.
"People come to expect something, an event more than even a show," he said.
Emeigh said he hopes the audience comes away with something very simple after seeing "Cats."
"By the end of the show, everyone in the audience will believe that cats are better than dogs," he said.
Mirror Staff Writer Beth Ann Downey is at 946-7520.