The Nelson Musical Theatre is thinking big when it comes to its production of Cats, opening in Nelson next week. Charles Anderson reports.When you do Cats, you make a statement. That is exactly what the president and co-producer of the Nelson Musical Theatre hopes to do. A week from the first performance of the award-winning musical, Ross Benbow and his amateur company are going big.
“It would be the biggest set that is around at the moment. Even the one in Auckland is not as big as the one we have,” Benbow says.
Composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber and based on Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by TS Eliot, the show first opened in London’s West End in May 1981. Cats eventually bowed out from the West End but it seems in Nelson it is still living on.
Benbow says the company is using Nelson College because it was the most suitable for the set, which has been transported from Christchurch in three containers.
“This is something that people are not normally going to be able to see easily in Nelson,” Benbow says.
Director Peta Spooner is excited about finally seeing the set in its full glory. “When you look at it all on the floor you ask yourself `what is this?’ But as it goes up it really is spectacular.”
The sound system and its operators have also been brought from Christchurch. “With a big show like this you have to have good sound, you can’t have the orchestra drowning out the cast or not sounding right. Everything has to be thought of,” Benbow says.And with this production there is a lot to think of. There are 17 band members and 40 cast members, but it is some of the younger members who may end up stealing the show.
“There are a huge number of young ones who are just blowing us away with their talent,” Benbow says. “They are brilliant, but unfortunately they thenleave after school and we don’t see them for a while.”
For now, however, Spooner says they will be given their chance to shine. “Cats demands performers to be very physically able and lucky for us many of these ones are very able and very good.”
They will have to be. The show’s budget is about $250,000, but, according to Benbow, it was a risk worth taking. “It is a fabulous show and we wanted to step it up again and keep doing productions that people want to see.”
Lucky for them Cats is the most popular musical theatre production in history, so they might have picked the right one.
The show has been seen by 50 million people in 26 countries, and has taken an US$1.4 billion at the worldwide box office. But to make just a little profit will do Benbow fine.
“We have gone for the biggest and best we can do and it is going to be very spectacular.”
Audience members will be able to view it from elevated tiered seating which fits more than 700 people.
“It would be incredible to fill that size, but part of the reason we are doing it is because we haven’t got a really big theatre here,” Benbow says.
“Things go to Blenheim and Greymouth that don’t even come here. This is trying to give Nelson something which is really good musical theatre.”
And Spooner believes that Nelsonians will be suitably impressed.
“I think they will be delighted with the show we have put on. It’s very exciting. It’s huge.”