Mastery of tricky score snares Tune nomination
Pearland High School’s production of “Cats” is nominated for five prizes at this month’s 17th annual Tommy Tune Awards including for musical direction of what choir director Michael Kessler says was “the most difficult score I’ve ever prepared.”
Winners will be announced in 15 categories in a Tony Awards-style ceremony sponsored by Theatre Under the Stars at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 30 at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Houston.
PHS nominations also include best ensemble, supporting actress (Brooklynn King), featured performer (Savannah Brown) and scenic design.
Kessler, who served as music director and conducted the orchestra for performances Jan. 17-19 and 24-26 at Turner High School Auditorium, said that despite the difficulty, “it was also the most fulfilling score I have ever had the pleasure of working on.”
Meeting a musical challenge
First, explained Kessler, the sheer volume of the score was a challenge.
“Once the music starts, it doesn’t stop until the end of the show,” he said. “On top of that is the sophistication of the music and the difficulty of the vocal ranges.”
Three PHS students joined 13 musicians in the pit who played at college or professional levels. They included Jon Marcum, the school’s associate choir director, who was featured on keyboard.
“We taught all of the music after school. None of it was taught during the regular school day,” said Kessler. “They prepared this show on top of their regular course load and on top of all the music we were regularly preparing for our curricular choirs.
“In addition to the actual notes being very difficult, we worked hard on the balance between acoustic and electronic instruments, staying together rhythmically with all of the polyrhythms and mixed meters, and certain inconsistencies between the various instrument parts.”
The cast, which was directed and choreographed by head theater teacher Andrea Mashman, included 29 PHS students in singing roles.
“Making sure all 29 microphones turned on and off at the right time was a challenge,” said Kessler.
The main felines were supported by 30 more students who also sang and danced.
King was nominated for her portrayal of skittish Demeter in the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, which was based on “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” by T.S. Eliot.
Brown played both the heroic Rumpus Cat and the villainous Macavity.
David Barker, the school’s technical theater teacher, designed the set He was assisted by students Meagan Smallwood, Marshall Breaux and Leslie Dunkee.
The set was constructed by students taking technical theater classes.
Tickets to the awards show will go on sale to the public at 9 a.m. Monday, April 15 at tuts.com/tommytuneawards.
Don Maines is a freelance writer who can be reached at email@example.com