By Stacey Muncie
Special to the Tribune-Star
TERRE HAUTE —
A tribute to T.S. Eliot’s whimsical feline poetry comes to life in the form of one of the best-known modern musicals when Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology’s Drama Club presents “Cats.” Opening Friday, “Cats” tells the story of the annual gathering of Jellicle cats in a show for all ages.
The original production opened at London’s New London Theatre in 1981 and ran for a record-setting 21 years. The musical’s London success was nearly matched on Broadway where it ran for just over 18 years. “Cats” features unforgettable music, including the immortal ballad “Memory.”
This weekend, Rose Drama Club will present the musical at 7:30 p.m. both Friday and Saturday as well as a matinee at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday. The show continues at 7:30 p.m. May 9 and 10.
Senior electrical engineering major Chris O’Daniel plays the lead role of Rum Tum Tugger, a flashy tom cat with a rebellious nature.
“He is an independent ladies man who is narcissistic, vain and never impressed,” O’Daniel explained.
The Rosemount, Minn., native is a veteran of Rose Drama productions, having performed in 10 shows over the course of his college career. He began acting in the seventh grade with the role of JoJo in “Seussical the Musical,” and performed in 14 shows throughout high school.
Though he’s played characters ranging from an evil corporate leader to a superhero, it’s clear that O’Daniel, who is commissioning as a second lieutenant in the Air Force this May, relishes his final Rose Drama club role.
“Being a ladies man is always enjoyable and entertaining, and the different depths of this character really bring a more enjoyable level to performing. Personally, I enjoy acting this way in real life as well,” he said, “and many said that I was type cast in this role, which of course I agreed with.”
Rose Drama Club director, Bunny Nash said, “We chose this show specifically for students like Chris. He’s such a great dancer and the show is so dance-heavy that it really gives him a chance to shine.”
Rum Tum Tugger’s biggest fan is the kitten Emidia, played by freshman Angela Hanson. Hanson is a Terre Haute native and daughter of Rose-Hulman Civil Engineering professor Jim Hanson.
“I grew up watching ‘Cats’ on a VHS tape,” Hanson said. “I watched it so many times that I memorized most of the lyrics and wore out the VHS tape. The last five minutes of the show are now missing from the tape so it was fun to relearn the finale for this production.”
A mathematics and economics double major, Hanson also brings a background in dance to her role. She studied at the Academy of Dance with Patti Willey, who is the choreographer for the show.
“The only other musical production that I was a part of was ‘Oklahoma’ when I was a sophomore in high school,” Hanson said. “I have also been in dance recitals since fourth grade. My favorite show for Patti was probably ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.’ I was the understudy for Willy Wonka and three different Oompa Loompas.”
This show, she said, is unlike any show she’s ever done.
“‘Cats’ has a simple plot with a variety of characters. The many characters in this show are singing and dancing together throughout the show, rather than the traditional handful of character performing at a time. I like the camaraderie of having everyone on stage at once.”
She added, “Overall, this show has been a blast to rehearse, and I am sure that it will be just as fun to watch.”
Tickets may be purchased in person, by calling the Hatfield Hall ticket desk at 812-877-8544 or at hatfieldhall.com. Ticket desk hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and two hours before each event. Complete season information, including artist video clips, is available at hatfieldhall.com. Find exclusive behind-the-scenes photos and more at facebook.com/HatfieldHall.