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Lyn Cramer choreographs, and Amy Jo Halliday plays Grizabella

by: CRAIG MITCHELLDYER/BROADWAY ROSE THEATRE COMPANY - REMEMBERING BETTER TIMES -In Broadway Rose Theatre Company's production of 'CATS,' Bobby Jackson (left) plays Old Deuteronomy while Amy Jo Halliday is Grizabella, an aging cat trying to get back in the good graces of her former tribe.A month before Broadway Rose Theatre Company's production of "CATS" was set to open at the Deb Fennell Auditorium, director/choreographer Lyn Cramer arrived from Oklahoma and started putting the dancers through their paces.

"'CATS is 99 percent dance but 100 percent movement," Cramer said of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical based on "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats" by T.S. Eliot about a tribe of cats called the Jellicles whose leader decides one night which one of them will ascend to the Heaviside Layer and come back to a new life.

Cramer, who is an endowed professor of musical theatre dance at the University of Oklahoma, has taught there for 12 years but has been teaching in higher education in Oklahoma since 1989.

"My sister had a theater, and I grew up around college actors, but after teaching college students all these years, I appreciate working with adults who are age-appropriate for their roles," Cramer said of working for various theater companies around the county during her annual summer hiatus.

"CATS" is the third show she has directed and choreographed for Broadway Rose, which was co-founded by producing artistic director Sharon Maroney and general manger Dan Murphy. Cramer's other two Broadway Rose shows were "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" and "The Drowsy Chaperone," which she calls "the single most fun I've had doing a show."

"My teaching experience comes into play when I direct because I have learned that patience is important," Cramer added. "'CATS' has a lot of movers among the cast. This version is about 50 percent the original choreography and musical staging and 50 percent mine."

Shortly after rehearsals started, Cramer said that the show would be completed by June 15, and then "we will clean up all the movements. We'll have 2 ½ weeks to refine the process."

She added that she was looking forward to the dancers putting on the costumes, especially the tails.

"Everyone who has done 'CATS' says that once the tails are on the dancers, they turn into cats," Cramer said. "We need to get tails on them sooner than later. The most difficult part is attaining fluidity in the style - their bodies should be like a noodle in a boiling pot of water. The experienced dancers are already doing that, but it will be a total process right up until opening night."

On a side note, Cramer said that "CATS," which opened in London's West End in 1981 and in New York in 1982, was one of the first productions to use a raked or slanted stage in a show so heavy with dance.

"Raked stages have been around since the Greeks, but no dancer wants to dance on them because it's hard on the knees - we won't be using one in Tigard!" she said.

Cramer has directed many of the major musicals for various companies around the U.S. such as "A Chorus Line," "Rent," 'How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," "A Christmas Carol," "The Sound of Music" and dozens more, but she has never directed "CATS" until now.

As the show was coming together in early June, Cramer said, "It is a feast for the eyes. I think people will enjoy the show because of their familiarity with cats. And the music is so beautiful - it's one of Andrew Lloyd Webber's best scores, and I think it's really fun."

On a personal note, although Cramer is a native of Texas, she has lived most of her adult life in Oklahoma, and her home was in the direct path of one of the tornados that devastated the area, "but it diverted in time," she said.

"When I retire in about 10 years, I will head right to Oregon," Cramer added. "I love it here. I'm grateful to Sharon and Danny for the opportunities to work here."

One of the "cats" that Cramer had to wrangle is Amy Jo Halliday, who makes a total transformation from her role as Anna in Broadway Rose's "The King and I" to the role of Grizabella in "CATS."

On the down side: Poor Grizabella used to be glamorous but left the tribe to see the world and returns beaten down after experiencing its harsh realities; now a pariah in the cats' society, she only wants to be accepted again. On the up side: Grizabella sings the most well-known song from the show, "Memory."

"I remember seeing 'CATS,'" Halliday said. "I'm not a dancer, and for this show, I'm old, limping and move very slowly. This is a dance-heavy show, and the dancers are terrific, so I feel a little left out.

"But I love that I get to sing 'Memory.' Everybody who comes to the show will want to hear it the way they remember it, so I'm excited about doing it but also nervous. I'm glad Broadway Rose trusts me to do it."

With all her theatrical experience, Halliday can be trusted to do the song justice. She grew up in Arizona and while in college studying to be a classical singer, she won the role of Christine Daae in "Phantom of the Opera" and left college to go on the national tour for two years.

Returning to Arizona, she finished college and married her husband Michael, who was accepted at Willamette University College of Law in Salem, which got them to Oregon. He earned his law degree and went to work, she got a master's degree at Portland State University, and they are raising a family that now includes an 8-year-old, a 7-year-old and 4-year-old twins.

After the couple moved here 12 years ago, Halliday's first role was Marian the librarian in the Oregon Symphony's production of "The Music Man," and from there her career took off.

"It's funny, but everybody always talked about Broadway Rose, and I thought, I want my photo on their mailer for their shows," Halliday said.

In addition to "The King and I," Halliday appeared in Broadway Rose's "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change" as well as shows for other local theater companies.

"I don't travel anymore because of my young family, but I get the same joy performing locally as I did on the national tour," she said. "And I'm not singing the same role eight times a week for two years straight! It was a great experience, and I'm glad I did it in my 20s - it was a different stage of life.

"And this year is interesting - I have been booked since Christmas and am staying busy the rest of the year, including Broadway Rose's 'Lucky Stiff' this fall. All the theater companies cast their shows way ahead."

Now that she is appearing in her third Broadway Rose show, "I cannot wait to see the costumes and make-up," Halliday said in early June. "Broadway Rose is so great about costumes. And we have such a fantastic wig person here. I have every confidence Broadway Rose will do its usual great show - that's why the audience and we actors keep coming back."

Hopefully Halliday won't meet the same fate as the famous actress Judi Dench, who was set to play Grizabella in the premiere of "CATS" in the West End in May 1981 - she injured her Achilles tendon during a rehearsal and had to bow out prior to the London opening.

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