Don’t dangle a string in front of Jean Michelle Sayeg, she just might
get down on all fours and pounce on it.
It’s the purr-fect reaction one would expect from the actress who
plays Victoria, the only white feline in the national touring company
of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cats.”
The Glendale native has completed some 300 performances across
the country since the tour began in August in New York. She is
excited to be so close to home while the show plays at the Pantages
Theatre in Hollywood through Sunday.
The story is about a tribe of cats that gather for the Jellicle
Ball, a feline festival at which one of the members is chosen to
transcend this life and come back in another.
Sayeg’s character is all white, denoting her youth and pure
innocence. She matures during the show and part of that
transformation is learning to accept others.
She befriends Grizabella, who was shunned from the tribe, and
Grizabella is chosen to go on to the next life called the Heavy Side
In preparation for the tour, Sayeg and the rest of the cast went
through a month of rehearsal in New York with director Richard
Stafford. Each rehearsal started with felinity exercises.
“We get down on all fours, and start scratching and smelling each
other. It was a great ice-breaker as well as getting you into the
character,” Sayeg said.
They also practiced licking their paws and cleaning their face
with their paws.
“If it’s not believable on stage, then we’re not doing our job,”
she said. “Yes, singing and dancing are necessary, but being a cat is
the most important to execute.”
At the beginning of the play, the cats are being introduced to the
audience. Sayeg, the lead female dancer in the cast, has a solo spot
and has to create the aura of a curious young cat. She calls on her
ballet experience to add grace to Victoria’s movements, she said.
Sayeg attended St. Bede the Venerable in La Canada Flintridge and
transferred to Immaculate Heart High School in Hollywood, graduating
At 10, she was a featured dancer on the TV show “Starsearch.” She
was trained at Le Studio and the San Francisco Ballet, and was a
soloist for the State Street Ballet for three seasons before she got
the part in “Cats.”
The show has been quite a journey for all the performers, she
said, because they have all had to become more versatile. Dancers who
have always just danced are singing and vice versa. This is the first
show Sayeg has sung in.
Learning to put on the makeup and costume has also been a
challenge. The face makeup takes 30 minutes to apply. Then the wig
goes on, followed by a unitard, leg warmers, shoes, tail and collar.
The microphone is weaved into the wig.
“It’s quite a process,” she said. “It’s hot to wear, although the
unitard is made of Spandex, but it’s hot with the wig and being under
the stage lights -- it’s a workout.”
The tour is exhausting, so whenever she can, Sayeg finds a
comfortable spot in the theater for a catnap.
It’s not unusual to find her curled up under a costume rack with
her knitted legwarmers wrapped all over her body.