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It's Not Just Actors In Cat Costumes: MSU Theatre & Dance's Production of "CATS"

(Poster design courtesy MSU Theatre & Dance)

Missouri State University Theatre and Dance presents "CATS," Andrew Lloyd Webber's popular Tony-winning musical based on "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats" by T.S. Eliot, Oct.25-28 in Coger Theatre. The production is directed and choreographed by Sarah Wilcoxon; joining us on “Arts News” was the show’s student Assistant Director Steven Horn.                                                                           

Horn said it’s a huge show to put on. “During the audition process there was a lot of talk like, ‘okay, how big are we willing to go with this?’  We ended up with a little over 30 cast members onstage, which is just colossal compared to most Missouri State productions. But with the sets, and the way everything ended up being laid out, it actually worked out to be the right number of people.”

In a moonlit junkyard at midnight, a clan of cats gathers for their annual Jellicle Ball, a joyous celebration of their individuality and tribal ties.  Horn described what happens at the ball. “We did a lot of talking amongst ourselves, as an ensemble and as a cast, what are the logistics? As prescribed in the script, there are a few things we know for sure: during the Jellicle Ball, one cat is brought into the tribe during the initiation, and that is Victoria during this production. And then one cat is selected at the end of the Ball to go to the ‘Heaviside Layer’—which is basically cat heaven. They are then reincarnated as a new cat. There are some interesting twists and turns about who gets picked to go to the Heaviside Layer at the end… although I’m sure most people are familiar with the basic idea of what happens.”

In the role of the wise and beloved leader of the cat clan, Old Deuteronomy, is Hayden Hart, a sophomore BFA in Musical Theatre major. “Great guy to work with,” said Steven Horn. “He has this rich, operatic, classically-trained tone—it’s just incredible to hear.”

Producing a show of this magnitude has been a learning experience for the student cast and crew—and that was the idea behind the selection of “Cats”, said Horn. “We wanted it to elevate the (Theatre and Dance) Department—not just because it would be ‘fun,’ or because we think we have the talent for it. The costumes, the lighting, the sound, and the set—everything is the next level up, and the dancing and the singing too.”

I asked Horn what the Assistant Director position involves. “Sarah Wilcoxon actually reached out to me about assistant-directing the show. I had taken a dance class with her before, and I guess she liked some of my analytical thoughts about dance. So she basically put me in charge of making sure the acting integrity is secure throughout the show—talking in-depth with the cast about, ‘what is your given circumstance here? What is your emotional connection to what’s going on?’ because the script doesn’t provide much (detail). So we had to come up with a lot of that stuff ourselves. So I had to make sure that through-line was still steady.

“I did a lot of research about cat behavior, that I provided the cast with. So like, when you’re in a tomcat duel, this is what that might look like; when you’re flirting, this is what that might look like. You can’t just be a person wearing a ‘cat’ costume. We said that you’re always both a cat and a person at the same time. So when you’re moving around onstage, I don’t want to see you moving around like a person would move—you’ve got to move around like a cat would move.”

Performances of “Cats” in Coger Theatre are Friday, Saturday and Monday, Oct. 25, 26 and 28 all at 7:30pm.  There’s a Sunday matinee the 27th at 2:30pm, but Steven Horn reported that it is sold out. (Never hurts to call or go online to check for tickets to “sold-out” performances, though.) He said that “limited ticket availability” remains for the three evening shows. Tickets are $22-$24; MSU students with ID can purchase tickets in advance for $16. Call 836-7678 or visit

Randy Stewart joined the full-time KSMU staff in June 1978 after working part-time as a student announcer/producer for two years. His job evolved from Music Director in the early days to encompassing production of a wide range of arts-related programming and features for KSMU, including the online and Friday morning Arts News. Stewart assisted volunteer producers John Darkhorse (Route 66 Blues Express), Lee Worman (The Gold Ring), and Emily Higgins (The Mulberry Tree) with the production of their programs. He was the de facto "Voice of KSMU" due to the many hours per day he was heard doing local station breaks. Stewart’s record of service on behalf of the Springfield arts community earned him the Springfield Regional Arts Council's Ozzie Award in 2006.

Stewart passed away on July 1, 2024.