Photos and story by Susan Mikula Campbell
Actually, I'm a dog person. But I love "Cats."
Niagara-Wheatfield High School's stage will be filled this weekend with some 60 students in the guise of furry felines rolling, jumping, clawing dancing and purring their way through the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical based on T.S. Elliott's "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats."
"It's definitely one of, if not the hardest (play) we've ever put on," said senior Shawn Beghtol. Even hours and hours of rehearsals, memorization and remembering to stay in character (as Rum Tum Tugger), followed by Monday's first chaotic dress rehearsal, he still grins and says, "My part is really fun."
Many of the cast are also members of the Niagara-Wheatfield High School Concert Choir, which has been selected to perform at Carnegie Hall in New York City during the National Youth Concert Series on March 25.
Concert choir member junior Max Antone plays the grumpy but loveable Growltiger in "Cats." Although he's excited about the after-play trip, he said, "This, right now, is the most exciting thing that has happened to me so far."
"There's so much talent in the cast, it's unbelievable," said Janelle Sabin. Dressed in red, she's Bombalarina - "Her personality is more seductive; she knows she's good looking ... she doesn't like Grizabella at all!"
Fans of "Cats" will remember that Grizabella sings the showstopper "Memory." Central to the play is the selection by Old Deuteronomy of a cat to be reborn into a new life.
Alyssa Remsnyder, a senior, won the Grizabella role.
"My character is the chosen one. Everyone accepts me in the end," she said. In real life, she guesses that's more of a 50/50 shot. "I think the real world is much more cruel...but, (she gives a cat-like shrug) people look for a happy ending."
Not a cat owner herself, Remsnyder went a watched other people's cats in order to get the moves right.
For senior RJ Crossley, it came naturally - "I have like three cats!"
What didn't come naturally was dancing - "I am NOT a dancer."
This meant extra hours after regular rehearsal for Crossley's Munkustrap, a major character who has a lot of songs and dancing, especially in the first act. The intense work has paid off.
Senior Adrianna Gleaton, on the other hand is a dancer, not a singer. She's excited about being a lead character -Mr. Mistoffelees - without having to sing.
"I've made a lot of friends ... some people I wouldn't have expected. We all have this one big thing in common. It's hard not to be close with them," she said.
There are also plenty of adults to help out. Jackie Minicucci is co-producer and is putting in as much hard work as the students. "We call her my personal chauffeur," jokes Brandon Minicucci. A junior, he plays Skimbleshanks, the railway cat, who makes sure everything runs smoothly.
Brandon expects the play to be a hit with young and old - "from little kids who get to see cats on stage to adults who really appreciate the music."
"It's all coming together," purred sophomore dancer Ashley Gates (Victoria). "I love watching it."
"Cats" cast members include RJ Crossley, Shawn Beghtol, Alyssa Remsnyder, Rebecca Milleville, Janelle Sabin, Kelly Bourque, Jackie Corsaro, Steven Rickard, James Letcher, Brandon Minicucci, Danielle Kendall, Katie Blendowski, Tyler Duncan, Carl Saph, Lauren Bunker, Max Antone, Rachel Gromlovits, Mark Donahue, Jessica Scherrer, Sarah Matuszkiewicz, Summer Swanson, Zach Kirchmeyer, Samantha Barone and Sarah Buch.
Featured dancers include Ashley Gates, Adrianna Gleaton, Kristen Cavalleri, Taylor Churakos, Jennifer Johnson, Elizabeth Raymond, Amanda Selbert, Jillian Wagner, Isabella Letcher and Macy Christiano.
Chorus members, directed by Marnie Aldrow, are Olivia Caldwell, Kacy Carbone, Rachel Coddington, Jay Cody, Brendon Deering, Amanda Equils, Brianna Fiorita, Athena Frankowski, Holly Kolkmeyer, Jaylee Mettler, Miranda Mona, Ciara Moore, Gina Notaro, Jordan Paige, Enya Patterson, Samantha Ploetz, Zora Raglow-DeFranco, Victoria Rance, Kimberly Sansano, Alec Scalzo, Julia Stevens and Alyssa Wright.
The younger "kittens," imported from the lower grades and directed by Jaclyn Palmer, are Lily Adamshick, Reagan Bleecher, Cara Janowsky, Emily King, Alexia Philippone, Danielle Siegmann, Delaney Wegrzyn and Kylie Yaeger.
The pit orchestra, directed by Christine Riederer, includes Emily Knab, Collin Kitcho, Ken Kuriscak, Caleb Kitcho, Miranda Dube, Krista Dean, Ryanne Dwyer, Michael Swandon, Jared Franciosa, Kelly Gravel, Josh Kerns, Randy Chase, Cassie Travers, Stephanie Soos, Jack Buddenhagen, Danielle Crocoll, Bethany Westphal, Mary Warne, Colton Kitcho, Noah Poczciwinski, Marnie Aldrow, Dan Pisarcik and Beth Travers.
Behind the scenes, supervised by Ken Kuriscak and Dan Lynch are stage crew members Heather Barry, David Dobmeier, Corey Bradley, Kyle Knab, Joey Corio and William Salisbury.
Keeping things organized are Andrea Letcher, director/producer; Jackie Minicucci, co-producer; Chantelle LeFevre, choreographer; Joan Hoover, costumes; Wendy Crossley, assistant co-producer; Paul Soos, Larry Corsaro, Chris Carbone, Rich Crossley, Eugene Minicucci and Gilles Dube, set design crew.
"Cats" will be on stage Thursday, March 17, to Saturday, March 19. Evening shows are at 7 p.m. In addition, there will be a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday. Tickets are $7. On Friday, a dinner show package will be available for $20. For tickets, call 215-3100. Non-perishable food items will be collected at all shows for military families.