Andrew Lloyd Webber's CATS comes to Birdsboro

Submitted photo Alpha/Omega Players rehearse for their production of CATS.

There is a flurry of actors sprinting through the hallways of the small theater, rushing to their next stage entrance. The Alpha/Omega Players, located at 301 E. 1st St., Birdsboro, are in the middle of one of their final rehearsals before their production of CATS debuts on August 2.

Among the busy actors is Melissa Kaufmann, who is an RN at Abington Memorial Hospital by day and a very active participant with A/O by night. Kaufmann has been with the company for over 18 years and has choreographed over 20 productions. For CATS, she is acting as the director and choreographer, as well as playing the role of Demeter. “I just had back surgery to treat a herniated disc in January,” she said, but was very determined to recover and participate in the show. “This is what I love to do.”

Behind the scenes, things are just as hectic. Missie Flannery manages the phone, sells tickets, organizes fundraisers and sews props for the productions. Her daughter Mandie has also participated in over 20 productions since childhood. “Everything we do is made possible with fundraising,” Flannery said, explaining that ticket sales alone do not fund the productions. Just to pay for CATS, A/O has held fundraisers at Five Below, Applebee’s, and sells candy in order to pay for the costumes. An annual fundraiser is a kids camp they hold every summer for a week. It is directed toward 8 to 16 year-olds.

This particular show will include a live orchestra, as opposed to a background track. The orchestra, located offstage for this production, is led by Nathan Patton. “It is definitely a different experience working offstage,” he said, as opposed to working in front of the actors. He has to cue his orchestra strictly according to where the actors are on the two monitors in front of him. He waits for visual and audible cues to sync the music and the onstage performance. Rehearsals with the orchestra are once a week, for four or five hours. “Things have been going well,” Patton said.

Mark Drey, one of the founders of A/O, is assistant director of the show and playing the role of Old Deuteronomy. Drey and Kerry Eschbach-Drey founded the Birdsboro-based theater in 1978, opening with a show of Godspell. They celebrated their 35th anniversary with an encore performance this spring. Drey is responsible for deciding what play or musical they will perform next. The decision is strongly influenced by the difficulty of obtaining the contract for the show. Also, he has to be sure that the show is popular enough that tickets will sell.

CATS was composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber and based on “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” by T.S. Eliot. It opened in London in 1981 and has since won numerous awards. The musical ran on Broadway for 18 years, becoming the second-longest running show in Broadway history. It tells the story of the Jellicle cat tribe and their ritual of “the Jellicle choice,” a decision of which cat will go to the Heaviside Layer and live a renewed life. The A/O production will include some original choreography, and because it is a small theater, the audience will feel very involved in the performance.

Out of the 552 tickets available for CATS, over 400 have sold for the six performances. The show opens 8 p.m. August 2. There will be three other evening shows 8 p.m. August 3, 9 and 10, as well as two afternoon performances 3 p.m. August 4 and 11.

To get involved or to purchase tickets, call Alpha/Omega Players at (610) 404-4849 or visit their website at www.alphaomegaplayers.org.

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