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Landing the purr-fect role in ‘Cats’

Joyce Rudolph

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

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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

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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.

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She befriends Grizabella, who was shunned from the tribe, and

Grizabella is chosen to go on to the next life called the Heavy Side

Layer.

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

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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

in 1997.

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.


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