Highland Park Players unleash inner 'Cats'

The first time Jennifer Cupani of Buffalo Grove saw "Cats," her future was sealed. "'Cats' was the reason that I wanted to go into theater, Cupani said. "It was the first thing that mesmerized me about the performing arts. I was obsessed with it when I was a little girl. I was enchanted by the fact that these people were dressed up as animals and they were dancing and they were so beautiful. I just wanted to be part of that."

The lifelong dancer and dance teacher finally has her chance. She is directing and choreographing the Highland Park Players' production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's multiple Tony Award-winning musical. "It's a dream to direct it," she declared, "because then I get to do all the parts."

Cupani isn't reinventing the show because how it is traditionally presented "is the beauty of it," she said. It will be set in a junkyard - the usual setting - but the set designer is including some unexpected trash. "That's going to be a character in and of itself," Cupani declared.

There are plenty of other characters in the show, all of the feline variety, so the director and cast have studied extensively to get in touch with their inner cats. "The Internet is a treasure trove of cat pictures and video," Cupani noted. "We all looked at how cats move and what they do in certain situations. We all did our homework to make it as real as possible."

Mike Weaver of Glencoe, who spends his days practicing law, plays Old Deuteronomy. It's the first time he has portrayed a cat but he once was a talking seahorse in a production of "The Little Mermaid."

"My character is the oldest character in the show," Weaver said. "Old Deuteronomy is the patriarch of this particular clan. He is certainly a father-figure and, in some cases, may be the actual father of many of the cats in this play. He is described as the leader of the group. He is the one who makes the Jellicle choices - selecting the one cat who gets to start a new life."

It's fun playing Old Deuteronomy because, "He's very philosophical," Weaver said.

Buffalo Grove resident Dave Lemrise plays Munkustrap. "He's kind of the narrator of the show," Lemrise said. "And he's also kind of a protector and second-in-command when the leader of the cats isn't around."

This is Lemrise's first animal role. The actor is enjoying "the ability to use dance and song to convey a story. We don't have dialogue scenes. That's a unique situation about this show which sets it apart. It's been a challenge but it's been great fun, too."

Hannah Rose of Highland Park, who plays Jellylorum, is also playing an animal for the first time. "It's been difficult for me because I'm a dog person," Rose admitted. "So I have done a lot of watching of cat videos on YouTube and looking at lots and lots of pictures online of cat poses. And I did spend a fair amount of time watching the 'Cats' video recording from the London version."

Rose described Jellylorum as "one of the more maternal cats in the group. She spends a fair amount of time guarding and protecting the kittens, and making sure the kittens are safe from Grizabella, who has been shunned by the group."

The actor particularly enjoys helping Asparagus, tell his life story in a second act duet. "A lot of the show is silly and upbeat and up-tempo," Rose explained. "That's a more serious song that has an interesting story behind it."

Source: Buffalo Grove Countryside