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For UTC's 2012 production of Fame, visit www.unionvilletheatre.com.

Unionville Theatre Company brings Cats to Markham!

by Grant Weaver, GuidingStar.ca 


           (Feb. 20, 2011)   The Unionville Theatre Company may think they’re the cat’s meow, but they’re purrfectly right to do so!  The UTC’s 2011 production of Cats opens this Thursday, February 24 at Markham Theatre, running to Sunday February 27 and promises to be one of the most entertaining shows in the youth-oriented company’s 32-year history.

            The delightful story line of Cats, the musical, is based on the whimsical poems written by T.S. Eliot for the amusement of his godchildren and which were collected and published in 1939 under the title “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats”.   The story begins when the Jellicle Tribe of cats gather on the rooftop to begin the Jellicle Ball at the climax of which Old Deuteronomy will choose a cat who will pass on to the Heaviside Layer.

The unforgettable songs and music are the much-loved compositions of the great Andrew Lloyd Webber which made his musical adaptation of the T.S. Eliot poems one of the longest running shows during the 80’s in London and on Broadway.

This writer fondly remembers seeing the show in Toronto during that decade and was intrigued to hear that the Unionville Theatre Company was bringing the show to Markham.  Young audiences of today have probably never seen the show and people of my generation are thrilled to have a chance to enjoy it again.

I made a visit to UTC on Sunday, February 20 as the cast rehearsed for the last time at their space at Crosby Arena in Unionville and while the set building crew were hard at work assembling the spectacular set on the stage at Markham Theatre for Performing Arts.

What a treat to say hello to some of the wonderful and talented young people who over the years have progressed from young and inexperienced newcomers to become the company’s seasoned veterans and mainstays.

  Courtney Keir, whom I first met as a grade 8 student during the company’s The Music Man in 2007, is back this year as Mr. Mistoffelees.  Now in Grade 12, and looking ahead to university next year, she is enjoying what may be her last show for a while.

Janine Fuglerud shows her range in her incarnation this year as Rumpus Cat.  Breanna Maloney, who learned, literally, to fly as Wendy Darling in Peter Pan in 2009, joins the feline fellowship as Electra. 

Well, I could go on and on.  After all, there are 51 in the cast.  That’s a lot of cats!

Director Ron Cameron-Lewis is on his third production with Unionville Theatre Company, having directed UTC’s Fame in 1997 and The King And I in 2004.  After teaching acting and directing plays for thirty-seven years at the Sheridan Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning he was honoured on his retirement in 2009 with the appointment as Professor Emeritus.

Over his career, Ron has directed over a hundred plays and musicals and has traveled throughout Canada, and internationally, as an adjudicator and will be continuing in this capacity.  In fact, he is even in demand to train adjudicators. 

So, in Ron Cameron-Lewis, UTC had a wealth of experience and accomplishment to guide them through their 2011 production.

One of the first things he did was to pitch the choice of Cats.  It’s a great ensemble piece, he told us, containing, in Andrew Lloyd Webber fashion, so many different styles of music.  It was a chance for the younger generation to get to know a show that had been a great hit before their time.  And, of course, it needs a big cast, just what Unionville Theatre Company can provide, but also offers roles that keep the whole cast on stage for much of the show.

“Unlike many shows where the chorus may come on occasionally, and the rest of the time they are sitting in the dressing room,” he explained, “the cat ensemble is on stage for about 80 percent of the show.  So, there is a lot more stage time for everyone in the show.”

And, as a bonus for Ron, it was also a chance to reconnect with the work of a great poet he was very familiar with. 

“I studied T.S. Eliot in high school, at university, at theatre school and at the University of London” he said. 

Ron enjoys the challenges and satisfactions of working with a wide range of ages.  The youngest actors are ten years of age.  Many are in their teens.  But there are also cast members drawn from a riper age and the blending of the group into a cohesive whole is one of the elements Ron finds particularly satisfying. 

“For some characters in the show,” he said, “having an older person play the role makes it more believable, because they have to have a certain gravitas, in order to carry off the dignity of the role.  So, there are a handful of people who are older than the teenage range and it is lovely watching them interact.  They have really bonded very nicely.”

As he spoke of the magic of young and older actors working together, it was interesting to hear Ron Cameron-Lewis, after such a long and distinguished career in theatre, and the teaching of theatre, still recalling his own first experiences as an actor. 

“I know this from my own experience,” he said. “I started out in community theatre as an eleven year old.  And one of the reasons I liked the world of community theatre is because I was treated as myself, not as some one’s son, or someone’s older brother.  It is nice to see the younger ones bonding with the older ones and, I hope, learning some of the discipline of theatre from them.”

Another big decision to be made was the set.  Cats is often performed in front of a decor that represents a junkyard but Ron, working with set designer Simon Cantrill, opted for the much more unusual rooftop setting.

With Cats requiring only one set, UTC’s rooftop decor will not simply be a moveable, and therefore fragile, backdrop.  It will be a solid permanent structure that will be a big part of the dramatic surface and space.

Designing the dance and movements is choreographer Val Ovtcharov.  Born and raised in Russia, Val came to Canada in 1992.  His life is one of wide and interesting experiences.  He worked as an assistant choreographer with the Russian Follies, appeared as a dancer in Celine Dion’s “Colour Of My Love” Tour, worked as a choreographer in Brazil, and as a choreographer for shows on cruise lines.

That last stint, lasting twelve years, was an interesting lifestyle, he told us.

“I could fall asleep in France, and wake up in Spain,” he laughed.

But for people working for years in the field of dance, injuries take their toll.  Now, Val works as a personal trainer and pilates instructor. 

Cats is a great challenge for a choreographer.  It involves more choreography than many Broadway musicals.  All 51 cast members have steps to learn but there is a basic core of sixteen characters who have elaborate routines to master.  In fact, this production will feature some of the most developed choreography of UTC’s productions. 

Even when the chorus is singing, there is still what Val calls “armography”, a choreography involving movement of the arms.  

 The poetry of Eliot and the unique music of Andrew Lloyd Webber make for beautiful rhythms that the choreography must capture. 

“I remember when Webber’s Phantom of the Opera came out, in the 80’s,” Val smiled.  “I was touring with a Russian company in Australia and I heard his music.  Now I am choreographing Andrew Lloyd Webber in Unionville!” 

At the end of the vocal rehearsal, the parts that needed some touching up,  Vocal Director Cassandra Bourne gave her charges a final pep talk, exhorting them to be fearless, to show no trepidation in singing their parts.  Remember, energy, energy!

 Cassandra Bourne knows opera.  She’s an opera singer, a dramatic soprano.  She is also a music teacher and adjudicator and is Executive Director of Arts Integra for Music and the Arts. 

But today, all her work with her UTC singers is done.  Tomorrow the cast will be rehearsing at the theatre itself and concentrating on performing in interaction with the set.

I asked her about this first experience with the Unionville Theatre Company.

“They’re an amazing bunch of people,” she beamed.  “It has been quite an honour for me.  I did not know when I accepted the position that it would be such a great gift to me.”

Cassandra was thrilled that UTC chose Cats. 

“The music is very operatic,” she said.  “It’s wonderful music.  All the numbers have such great identity, and then within a whole, they all meld together nicely.  It’s a wonderful opportunity for the cast to get acquainted with such a great composer of the twentieth century.”

Music Director Doug Manning, on his eleventh UTC production, also spoke glowingly of the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber.  Doug conducts the twenty-one musicians that are brought together each year as the Unionville Theatre Company orchestra.

“This is probably one of the most enjoyable shows we’ve worked on at UTC,” Doug told us.  “It’s a great challenge for the orchestra, a big challenge vocally.  This is music with substance, feeling and emotion.  There are musical complications.  It’s an intellectual puzzle as well.”

There are almost no dialogues or monologues, there is always music.  That creates another challenge for the orchestra.

“We’re playing almost continuously for the full length of the show.  This is a concentration challenge, as well as a plain physical challenge.  My arm gets tired!”

As our readers probably know, Doug Manning is also the conductor of the Markham Concert Band which has major concerts coming up on March 6 and on May 1.  So, like all the cast, artistic team and crew, Doug is pretty busy these days.

While Val had put his dance corps through a vigorous rehearsal of some key routines, it was time for me to head down to Markham Theatre for Performing Arts to see how the crew was progressing with the erecting of the set. 

It was a hive of activity.  The workers had been there since 9 o’clock in the morning and by late afternoon, the set had largely taken shape.

I spoke with Simon Cantrill.  When I saw him at this time last year, his crew was test-driving the boat that would be pulled by offstage muscle along the Chocolate River of the Willy Wonka set.  Such is the life of a set designer!

Some past productions have involved two sets, sometimes even three.  Naturally, those have to be easily movable.  Cats requires only one decor.  So, the director and set designer were able to focus on a set that will be truly impressive by its size and scale.

There are several levels of rooftops, and the cast will perform on all of them.  Therefore, everything had to be made structurally sound.

                It is also a very interactive set.

“We tried to put as many entrances and exits on the set as we possibly could,” Simon explained, “as well as many interactive elements, because we don’t want any piece just setting there.  The cats need to be able to crawl over it, sprawl out on it, slide down it, to basically use every surface.  Even the roof vents, the cats will be going in and out of them.”

Unionville Theatre Company is very appreciative of the support they have received from Markham Little Theatre who offered them the use of MLT’s set construction workshop at their venue on the grounds of Markham Museum. 

Shell Lumber, now Shell Home Hardware, has been, and continues to be a  corporate supporter of UTC and offer them a reduced rate on all materials.  This has helped make it possible to create a stunning set and stay within budget.

When the show opens, all the stage time goes to the set, not to the many volunteers who work months in advance, always out of the public eye. 

Once again, Simon had a great group of set builders.

“I’ve got three or four helpers this year who are somewhat in the construction industry,” he said, “but also weekend warriors, or people with no experience at all.  People who don’t do it for a living, who work in offices, but like to play with power tools, are often great volunteers, the most excited about it, the most inclined to get things done.”

I had interrupted work long enough so I let Simon get back to his crew and I ventured down to the lounge where Sharon Chandran and Caroline Mason had laid out food and cold drinks for the crew.  You know what they say, an army marches on its stomach, and set construction makes for a long day.

Carlene Flynn and Adrian Chandran are the producers for Cats.  This is Adrian’s first experience at producing.

“I’m learning the ropes from Carlene,” he said. 

For the Chandrans, it is truly a family affair.  In addition to Sharon Chandran’s staffing the kitchen today, she will be overseeing the green room during show week.  Daughter Tara Chandran, who shared the role of Charlie in UTC’s Willy Wonka, is back this year as the cat named Jemima.  And today, her eleven-year old brother Connor was busy helping the set builders.

Needless to say, in a play in which all fifty-one actors play the role of cats, and every cat has its own distinct identity, costumes are going to be a big part of the show.  Clennie Fraser-Mangialardi, as costume designer, and Cathy Edwards as costumes co-ordinator have teamed up again this year.  All the costumes are handmade, hand dyed, hand painted and embellished.

The cast rehearsed at Crosby Arena earlier today out of costume but Carlene gave me a photographic sneak peak (see above) at what is in store for the audience at Markham Theatre and, I can tell you, between the spectacular set and the stunning costumes, the audience is in for a real visual treat. 

Another special note about this year’s show is that Urban Cat Relief, an organization that seeks to make a difference in the lives of feral and homeless cats, will have an information and fundraising display in the lobby of the theatre.  Fittingly, one the group’s volunteers, Liisa Kallasmaa-Davis, is a member of the cast, playing the role of Jellylorum.

Unionville Theatre Company is grateful for the corporate support they have received.  This year the Old Firehall Confectionary is returning as a platinum sponsor.  Diamond Sponsor is Gracious Living Garage.  Gold sponsor is CIBC, and Silver Sponsors are Chad Management Group, Fieldstone Windows & Doors Ltd and Mercedes-Benz Markham.

Looking to the future, one of the goals of the board of directors of Unionville Theatre Company is to find a permanent home: a rehearsal venue of their own, with adjoining spaces for work on sets, and for the creating and storage of costumes. They hope to find the support that will make that possible.

There is one other conversation I want to tell you about.  Rob Cline who has been Stage Manager for all five of the UTC shows that I have visited, confirmed to me that a UTC tradition was observed again this year.  On Valentine’s Day, all the girls in the cast, by tradition, are serenaded by the boys and presented with a rose.  The ratio of boys to girls in this show is a little lower than in previous years, so I’m sure the boys, including Rob’s brother Steve (otherwise known this year as the feral Rum Tum Tugger) had to really step up! 

I have been lucky enough to witness this tradition twice.  It exemplifies the warmth and family atmosphere that surrounds the Unionville Theatre Company. 

Congratulations to everyone for the hard work they have put into the show all these months.  I can’t wait to see the full production on stage later this week!

There will seven shows in all.  Two are matinees for kids and seniors.  There will be five shows open to the general public: Thursday evening, February 24, Friday evening February 25, Saturday afternoon and Saturday evening, February 26 and Sunday afternoon, February 27.  The matinees begin at 1 p.m. and the evening shows at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets are available through the Markham Theatre box office at 905-305-SHOW.  

Click here for full show details.

For more information about the Unionville Theatre Company, visit www.unionvilletheatre.com.

 

 

 

 

 

Cast of Characters

Asparagus (Gus) / Growltiger   - Quinton Neufeldt

Bombalurina                             - Rachel Levy-McLaughlin

Bustopher Jones                       - Bill Keir

Demeter                                   - Cheryl Cline

Grizabella                                 - Solveig Barber **

Griddlebone                             - Julia Gartha

Jellylorum                                 - Liisa Kallasmaa-Davis

Jemima                                     - Tara Chandran

Jennyanydots (Gumbie Cat)      -  Rebecca Townsend

Mr. Mistoffelees                       - Courtney Keir

Mungojerrie                              - Laura Hernandez-Merlano

Munkustrap                              - Nathan Ball

Old Deuteronomy                     - Bill Keir

Rumpleteazer                           - Courtney Wilson

Rumpus Cat                             - Janine Fuglerud

Rum Tum Tugger                     - Steven Cline

Skimbleshanks                         - David Wallis

Victoria                                   - Sydney Keir


Kittens

Aggie*                                    - Sabrina Boyle

Buttons*                                 - Alexandra Houghton

Claret*                                   - Maren Ingle

Polly* / Macavity                    - Anna-Claire Kilcoyne-Ball

Prissie*                                   - Drew Lindsey

Rosie*                                    - Sarah Rowland

Velvet*                                   - Sydney Skynner

Zarathustra*                            - Mackenzie Snell

Zoe*                                 - Samantha Jewel Yim



Ensemble

Adelina*                                 -  Louise Figliano

Alonzo                                    -  Laurel Bury

Barley*                                   - Alexandra Russell

Billie Bailey                             - Morgan Potter

Carbuckety                             - Brittany Allum

Clover*                                  - Lara Mackie

Electra / Demeter Swing***   - Breanna Maloney

Etcetera                                  - Lyndsay Taylor

Georgina                                 - Julia Mason

Ghengis Gilberta                     - Jordan Girolametto-Prosen

Incognita*                              - Fiona Cusack

Jamie Oopsa Cat                   - Isabella Gartha

Jonabelle                               - Marina Couta-Ricciarelli

Lavender*                            - Qiana MacGilchrist

Munkustina*                        - Catherine Gardner

Nickelby*                            - Janelle Stewart

Petra                                   - Zoë Davidson

Plato                                   - Quinn McKenney

Pouncival                            - Kathleen Giroux

Quaxo / Macavity               - Luke Cummings-Avoledo

Roxanne*                           - Diana Lyn Ruffolo

Shalimar*                           - Natasha Choi

Tantomile / Macavity          - Samantha Skynner

Tangerine*                         - Samantha Russell

Tumblebrutus                     - Alanna Stewart

* Characters are not featured in original score
** Appearing with special permission of the Canadian Actors’ Equity Association

*** The role of “Demeter” will be played by Breanna Maloney on Thu. Feb 24, and on Sat Feb 26 matinee

   

Orchestra

Flute .............................................. Skye Sweet
                                                        Judith Thornton

Clarinet, Baritone Saxophone ..........Vittorio Polsoni

Woodwinds .................................... Rob Wells

Violin ............................................. Brian So
                                                        Shiny Yang

Cello .............................................. Andrea Ottensmeyer

Trumpet, Piccolo Trumpet .............. Gord Neill

Trumpet .........................................Wally Osbaldeston
                                                       Larry Pogue

French Horn ................................. Dina E. Cox
                                                      Peter Ottensmeyer

Trombone .................................... Ernie Devenyi

Bass Trombone ............................ Ron Robbins

Tuba ............................................ Hugh Wallis

Guitar .......................................... Stephen Harper

Keyboard .................................... Remi Evan Marchand
                                                     Odette Wells

Percussion ................................... Milan Chvostek
                                                     Mark
Shannon

 

 

  


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