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    Scratching their way to the top

    Times-Mirror Photos/William Burke The cast of “Cats” performed the opening act during a rehearsal on Feb. 2 at Blue Ridge Middle School.
    Taking on a full-scale production of "Cats" with 43 middle school students is no easy feat to say the least.

    But Blue Ridge Middle School in Purcellville may be doing more than staging your everyday school drama production.

    In her research, Director Dolly Stevens, a 30-year veteran thespian, can't find evidence that any middle school in Virginia, or the East Coast, has tackled the project.

    "We believe we are perhaps only the second public middle school in the country to tackle the full production," Stevens said. "We know we're the first in the state of Virginia. We've researched public middle schools in the country and we could only find one other middle school in the Midwest that's taken on the project."

    The award-winning production "Cats" composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber first opened on Broadway in 1982. Since then its been performed in more than 20 countries and about 250 cities. It's won seven Tony awards and spent 18 years performed on Broadway.

    With an opening night of March 1 rapidly approaching, the kids have worked since before Thanksgiving to perfect every song and dance move.

    Coordinating that many middle school students into successful singing and dancing cats was a community effort, the director said.

    "The dancing element is substantial. Nobody in their right mind would take this on without understanding that they're taking on a substantial project," Stevens said.

    But the director is up for the challenge.

    Laura Rahn, whose 12-year-old daughter Carliegy is part of the cast, said her fellow parents were slightly shocked when Stevens announced she wanted to produce a full-scale production of "Cats." After all, middle school students are not known for their great attention spans.

    "It is absolutely incredible. When Dolly announced in September that she was doing "Cats" we were like 'What are you thinking?' We were interested in how it was going to turn out, but wow, it's been amazing," Rahn said. "She does a very good job in getting the parents involved and keeping them involved. The community bonding and working together has been fantastic."

    Stevens, in her fifth year as musical director at Blue Ridge, knew with her background – she owns her own voice and acting studio in Purcellville – that she could get the job done and done well.

    "I thought 'Can I push them to do this?' But I also knew that because my background is professional, I set a high bar. What I like to do is come out with a finished product that people don't think middle school students are capable of doing … Are you going to come into this and think 'wow this is just as good as the one on Broadway?' No, of course not. They're middle school kids. But are you going to be impressed? Absolutely."

    Lake O'Brien, 13, an eighth grader from Purcellville, has her make-up applied by Kathy Bolen, a volunteering mother to one of the cast members, to play Rum Tum Tugger for her role in "Cats," a show being performed by the Blue Ridge Middle School.


    The students started in December with table singings – and they were bored, according to Rahn. But by the time they hit the stage and the costumes and choreography came together, the adrenaline kicked in.

    Stevens is working to pull off the production by utilizing parents. Each parent has a role, whether it be stage design, costumes or makeup.

    Even some of Stevens former students have pitched in to help with choreography and lighting.

    "I tell the parents when I cast their kids, they're cast too," Stevens said.

    All proceeds from the show go toward the Blue Ridge Parent Teacher Organization for future productions.

    Stevens is sure the end result will be "100 percent amazing."

    "I want to make sure people are getting their money's worth and the show is doing what it's supposed to do," the director said. "It's supposed to take you away from your problems for a while," she said.

    If you go:
    "Cats" opens at 7:30 p.m. March 1. Additional performances will be held at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. March 2 and 2:30 p.m. March 3. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students and seniors. Blue Ridge Middle School is at 551 E. A St., Purcellville.
    Director Dolly Stevens, center, discusses wardrobe changes with the crew after the rehearsal for "Cats" at Blue Ridge Middle School on Feb. 2.
    Comments

    This is fantastic—kudos to Dolly Stevens.  Obviously there is an incredible amount of talent here (the costumes are fabulous), and this will be an unforgettable experience for the kids.  I have fond memories of participating in musicals in HS.  Perhaps we will one day see some of these kids on Broadway!


    One of the finest performance and portrayal of art in this act and it is worthy to appreciated and it should also motivate the young generation to take this art and feel the love for it.
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