By CLAIRE ST. JOHN
A lot of characters have traipsed across Sierra Repertory Theatre's stage over the past 25 years, but none so striking as a handful of cats prowling and yowling through a junkyard alley.
Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Cats" will hit the stage Saturday in celebration of SRT's quarter-century anniversary. To mark the occasion, the East Sonora theater spent $175,000 on the production. Previously, the most expensive production cost about $75,000.
"It's such a hard show to produce, so it's a yardstick for us," said theater co-founder Dennis Jones. "The whole point of this is to do better and better work."
The show based on T.S. Eliot's poetry collection, "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats" was the longest running Broadway production. Foreseeing similar popularity here, SRT will stage 70 shows more than any other it has produced.
In the weeks leading up to Saturday's gala opening, hammers banged and painters stippled on the set, where buildings fold in on themselves, a ship is tucked behind a brick wall and a train steams out from behind a ratty fence.
"Everything has to look really dingy, dirty worn out," worker Lois Bottcher said, adding texture and age to a wall of bricks.
Bottcher was on the realistic side of the stage.
But the other half, modeled on Wassily Kadinsky's early 1900 abstract paintings, dips into fantasy.
Although the makeup and costumes are modeled on domestic kitties, actors and designers took a few flights of fancy to get the look made famous on Broadway.
Last week, four actors learned to apply makeup that won't run under hot lights and the heat of gutsy singing and acrobatic dancing.
"All of the dancing is very high-impact," said Becca Battoe, an actor from Los Angeles. "All I know is every other step I do is a high kick."
Cast mate Daraj Maxfield agreed.
"They are doing some hefty dancing," he said. But for Maxfield, who lives in Santa Cruz, learning another language or at least a little of it was more difficult.